Enthusiasm for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) shows no signs of abating following last year’s Avengers: Endgame. The next movie is Black Widow, the 24th MCU film, and the one that officially kick-starts the franchise’s Phase Four stage. It finally shines the spotlight on Natasha Romanoff a.k.a the eponymous Black Widow, one of the longest-serving members of the Avengers team, who met a tragic end in Endgame.
The film has been in production since before 2010, but finally, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is getting her solo film. Set after the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016), but before the events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018), the film delves into Romanoff’s shadowy KGB past, introducing us to her ‘family’ of fellow assassins.
Even though she’s one of the original members of the Avengers initiative, and has appeared in seven MCU films thus far (eight if you include the post-credits scene in Captain Marvel), Black Widow’s background is littered with secrets. If you remember in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) used her telekinetic powers to haunt Natasha with visions of the “Red Room”, the brutal training program from her past that developed young women into assassins called Black Widows.
The standalone Black Widow movie, directed by Cate Shortland, will no doubt delve into the history of the Red Room, and introduce us to important people from Natasha’s past. One of these individuals is Red Guardian, played by David Harbour (Stranger Things, Hellboy). The Red Guardian is a highly skilled Soviet Union operative with important links to Romanoff. If you want to know more about him, here’s a go-to guide to the Russian Captain America.
As far as the Black Widow movie is concerned, Red Guardian is the superhero alter-ego of Alexei Shostakov. But, like so many Marvel heroes, in the comics, Red Guardian has also served as the alter-ego of other characters such as Aleksey Lebedev, Dr. Tania Belinsky, Josef Petkus, Krassno Granitsky, Anton, and Nicolai Krylenko. Shostakov is the second incarnation of Red Guardian, and the one that shares the most links to Black Widow.
Mr. Black Widow
Shostakov was born in Moscow and became an agent for the Soviets alongside his wife – who was none other than Natasha Romanova, or as we know her, Romanoff. In the comics, Natasha and Alexei were both agents, one as a Black Widow and the other as a test pilot, and happily married to each other.
Before he became the Red Guardian, Shostakov was one of the Soviet Union’s most decorated pilots. During World War II, Shostakov shot down many fighter planes and was one of the people involved in helping the Soviet Union Air Force dominate the skies. Due to his exceptional flying skills, Shostakov became the first person to test different jets and continued to fight for the Soviet Union in other wars.
Russian Captain America
During the 1950s, the Soviet Union wanted their own Captain America (played in the MCU movies by Chris Evans). The Captain, officially known as Steve Rogers, was renowned as America’s champion during World War II and became their patriotic hero. Wanting a slice of that action, the KGB (state security for the Soviet Union) faked Shostakov’s death and kept the truth hidden from Natasha.
He was told he couldn’t speak to any friends or family, so he was unable to tell Natasha he was still alive. Shostakov was trained and prepared in secret, where he developed his skills in hand-to-hand combat and athleticism. The Soviet Union’s answer to Captain America was born: Red Guardian.
Armed to the teeth
One of Shostakov’s weapons is a disc attached to his belt, which has a magnetic force that compels it to return to its owner, like a boomerang. Other versions of Red Guardian in the comics have a shield made of steel, not unlike Captain America’s accessory of choice (although his is made of vibranium).
Although the shield isn’t usually linked with Shostakov’s incarnation of the superhero, merchandise for the Black Widow film has shown Red Guardian with a shield, so the movie character is likely to draw inspiration from other comic book iterations. Another similarity to Captain America is Red Guardian’s attire, which symbolises his country with a star and the colour red that matches the Soviet flag.
The family is back together
In the Black Widow movie, Red Guardian and Natasha are said to have a “complicated” history; whether this implies they’ve been married in the past remains to be seen. If they were married, it had to have happened long before Natasha made her first appearance in Iron Man 2 (2010), which, given the age gap between the two characters, perhaps seems unlikely.
Given Natasha’s prominence in the MCU over the last 10 years, and her romantic links with Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), we wonder if Red Guardian will experience feelings of jealousy. Some reports speculate that Alexei’s ex-wife will instead be Melina Vostokoff, another Black Widow operative who will be portrayed in the movie by The Favourite’s Rachel Weisz.
Black Widow appears to centre around a family reunion of sorts when Natasha, Alexei, Melina and Yelena Belova (played by recent Oscar nominee Florence Pugh) sit together at dinner, so maybe Alexei is Natasha’s father-figure in Black Widow?
Nadine Shambrook is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team. Follow her on Twitter.