The Marvel Cinematic Universe exists in a different timeline than our current one, known as Earth-199999. But that timeline is close to our own, and most of the films are set in the present day. For example, Iron Man, in which Tony Stark emerges as the titular hero, happens in 2008, the same year it was released. Only a scant few have taken place in the past, including Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain Marvel. But more Marvel prequels could happen post-Black Widow as the franchise’s execs consider what opportunities there are to fill in earlier events.
Black Widow’s status as a prequel is slightly different than previous MCU period pieces. Unlike Captain America or Captain Marvel, this film takes place after Tony Stark’s first outing in Iron Man. So, it is technically a “prequel” in that it is set five years before present day and features a character who is deceased in the current Marvel world. But it’s also a film set in Phase 3, the heart of the already-established Marvel timeline, between events that were “present-day” at the time of their release.
This makes Black Widow feel like a film that missed its original window of opportunity for some fans. The main criticism? Marvel bigwigs should have been willing to release a movie starring a woman superhero back in 2016, when the events of the film are set.
But according to Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, Black Widow is the first of what could be several films in which the MCU backtracks to fill in character’s stories left by the wayside.
Speaking at a recent Black Widow press conference, Feige told /Film that the new movie’s look back was only one of several prequel possibilities. Apparently, the MCU is considering seeding in recent-past-set prequels for other characters as the franchise pushes into Phase 5. “Certainly, this film and this story is a particular case for Natasha,” Feige said. “But the notion of exploring the past, present, and future of the MCU is certainly in the cards for all of our characters.”
As Feige explained, such films will depend on how those stories of the past further the plot development for the MCU’s future. In the case of Black Widow, the goal is to fill in a particular period the franchise skipped. “We very specifically knew there was a large period of her life that we didn’t know about, not just her childhood, but this period of time between Civil War and Infinity War,” Feige said. “And that period, we felt it was a right to creatively focus on being able to discover more about our past and more about our present. And … give a hint at the legacy in the future.”
Who else could have their past explored? There are certainly a lot of options as the MCU expands. Some of those stories may also wind up as Disney+ series, as the MCU takes advantage of the platform to dive into the stories of characters who started as sidekicks or secondary heroes and villains. But fans shouldn’t discount the big screen as places to tell these stories either.
Black Widow arrives in theaters and on Disney+ on Friday, July 9, 2021.