While most of the details about the upcoming Black Widow solo film are still closely guarded secrets, some new pictures appear to provide a vital clue about to the identity of Florence Pugh's character in the film. Leaked photos from the Budapest set revealed a crate continuing a model likeness of Pugh labeled "Yelena." The name indicates that Pugh will be portraying Yelena Belova, the second Black Widow in the Marvel Universe, potentially being positioned as a protege to the Marvel Cinematic Universe's original Black Widow, Natasha Romanov.
Created by Devin Grayson and J.G. Jones, Yelena debuted in 1999's Inhumans #5 before going on to play a much larger role in that creative team's Black Widow miniseries. She was trained as a spy and assassin by the Red Room, the same fictional Soviet organization that trained Natasha to become the Black Widow decades earlier. After the murder of her mentor Pyotr Vasilievich Starkovsky, Yelena is officially designated by the Russian government as the new Black Widow and tasked with investigating his death. Quickly taking to her new title, Yelena accepts a mission pitting her directly against Natasha, with Yelena believing herself to be the true, loyal Black Widow and Romanov unworthy of the name.
As the rivalry between the two clandestine operatives grow, Natasha attempts to persuade her would-be successor to leave the ugly, violent life of espionage and assassination behind and develop her own identity rather than follow in her footsteps.
When Yelena remains undeterred and loyal to her overseers, Natasha then exposes the dark, traumatizing side of their shared profession, positioning Yelena to witness the unwavering cruelty of her new occupation. Overwhelmed and disillusioned by what she has seen, Yelena decides to leave the world of espionage and Black Widow title before retiring to Cuba to become a successful model.
The career change proves temporary, unfortunately, and Yelena recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. to oversee the intelligence agency's secret vibranium mining operations in the Savage Land. After being attacked and disfigured by Sauron after the New Avengers discover of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s illicit activities in the region, Yelena swears revenge against both her former employers and the New Avengers, agreeing to undergo genetic experimentation by Hydra transferring her mind into a Super-Adaptoid.
In her new form, Yelena is able to absorb and replicate the New Avengers' powers but the absorption of The Sentry's powers exposes her to Void and, combined with a renewed attack from Iron Man's entire inventory of existing armors, she is defeated. Before she can be taken into custody, Yelena is betrayed by Hydra, who trigger a self-destruction device secretly implanted in her before she can divulge any information to the Avengers or S.H.I.E.L.D. During Dark Reign, it is revealed that she survived the explosion and is kept in stasis by Norman Osborn as a secret weapon.
Freed by A.I.M. to be installed as their new leader, Yelena undergoes a heroic redemption after learning of Natasha's death at the hands of the Hydra doppelgänger of Captain America during Secret Empire. Retaking the mantle of Black Widow, Yelena vows to carry on her predecessor's heroic legacy, but under her own lethal terms. Yelena's new mission as Black Widow has her travel the globe to wipe out the remaining vestiges of Hydra after their defeat at the hands of Captain America. Yelena's bloody globetrotting activities are noticed by Bucky Barnes and Clint Barton who cross paths with her to reason with her.
Yelena Belova's arc in the Marvel Universe is a complicated one, usually leaning towards villainy when not a clandestine antihero and heir apparent to the Black Widow legacy.
With her potential portrayal by Florence Pugh in the upcoming Black Widow solo film apparently revealed by the leaked set photos, the MCU incarnation could either be presented as a successor or antagonist for Natasha Romanov. The world of espionage has always been a morally murky one and Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow has been haunted by her experiences both training in the Red Room and working for Russian intelligence for year,s and Pugh's Yelena is similarly in store to be compromised and traumatized by her own upbringing.
However, while the MCU has had a habit of pitting its heroes against dark mirrors of themselves. But since with Johansson potentially leaving behind the role of Black Widow after her solo film, Pugh could be a new generation of Black Widow to join her Phase 4 counterparts.
After all, the MCU has just introduced a new Captain America in Sam Wilson inheriting the shield and mantle from Steve Rogers, so Yelena Belova fulfilling her destiny by succeeding Natasha Romanov is not entirely out of the question. With with 20 years of comic book history to draw from, there certainly is plenty of material for the new cinematic character to explore.
Directed by Cate Shortland with a script by Ned Benson, Black Widow stars Scarlett Johansson, and is rumored to be released on May 1, 2020.