The following contains major spoilers for Black Widow.
Technically, the Marvel Cinematic Universe already began its newest era in the form of three separate Disney+ Marvel TV shows that all began before Black Widow made it to the screen. But, it is called a "cinematic" universe after all, and so for many Black Widow is the true first step into Phase 4 of the MCU – the blockbuster being the first of four 2021 movies that are set in this universe. While we knew the film was going to tell a story set in the past, we have also always expected it to help set up where the exponentially growing franchise was likely to be going. And while we don't get a peek at any kind of new intergalactic big bad for a new set of Avengers to fight 10 years from now, the Black Widow ending still gives us plenty of ideas of where future stories may take us.
The new movie isn't technically the end of Natasha Romanoff's story (that would be Avengers: Endgame), but it fills in some gaps in her history. We're introduced to several new characters, some who might very well come back in future MCU installments, and others who absolutely will. Let's break down everything that happens at the end of Black Widow.
How Black Widow Ends
Black Widow is, at its core, Marvel's "spy movie" in the same way that Ant-Man was the Marvel take on the heist genre. As such, the movie has more than its share of double crosses, misdirection, and convoluted plans. In the end it comes down to an attempt to take down Ray Winstone's Dreykov, the man Natasha Romanoff previously believed she had killed, and finally destroying the Red Room and freeing the women who have been turned into Widows against their will.
In this effort Natasha is ultimately successful, as she and her surrogate family of Yelena (Florence Pugh), Melina, (Rachael Weisz) and the Red Guardian (David Harbour) literally knock the Red Room out of the sky. And Dreykov now appears to be definitively dead. In addition, all of the Widows inside the Red Room are freed from the chemical mind control, including the enigmatic Taskmaster.
Natasha leaves herself to be detained by the authorities, presumed to be Thunderbolt Ross and company, so that everybody else can escape. However, in the final scene we see that Natasha is free, and she goes off in search of her Avengers family in order to try and bring them all back together. This we already know will bring us more or less up to date with the events that unfold in both Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, including Natasha Romanoff's death.
Who Is Taskmaster And What Happened To Them?
One of the big questions going into Black Widow involved the film's apparent major villain, Taskmaster. In the comics, Taskmaster is a mysterious figure who has an innate ability to copy any fighting style they see anybody perform. That translates perfectly to the Black Widow film as we see Taskmaster throw a shield like Captain Captain America, use a bow like Hawkeye, and fight hand-to-hand with claws like Black Panther.
But who Taskmaster is and how they're able to do what they do is maintained as a mystery through the first two acts of Black Widow. In the comics Taskmaster is a mercenary named Tony Masters, but in Black Widow they work directly for the Red Room. When one of the Widows goes rogue, Taskmaster shows up to take them down.
In the end, when Natasha has her final confrontation with Dreykov, she learns that Taskmaster is actually Deykov's daughter, whom Natasha thought she had killed (as collateral damage) when she blew up Deykov's office years earlier during a mission to prove her loyalty to S.H.I.E.L.D. and try to destroy the Red Room. Somehow – it's never made entirely clear how – they both survived. However, Dreykov's daughter was severely injured, and she's had a chip implanted in her skull that gives her photographic reflexes. She's also under the same mind control that the rest of the Widows are experiencing. Dreykov clearly sees her as more weapon than daughter.
Taskmaster is eventually freed from the mind control, along with all the other Widows, and they all fly off together to parts unknown.
What It All Means For The MCU
While Black Widow didn't set up any major storylines that we expect to play out over the next two years, at least not obviously, what the movie does do is put a lot of new pieces on the board that could come back into play anytime a future Marvel movie needs them.
There are now several Black Widows who are free to live their own lives, but they've also been trained as spies, assassins and more. And assuming that the rest of the MCU stories we're getting will be set post Avengers: Endgame, they've been out in the world for some time now. If this movie had been made prior to Endgame you can be sure we would have seen some of these women on the battlefield trying to take down Thanos.
Taskmaster is also out in the world somewhere. While she ends Black Widow injured, she certainly will have healed by the time we get to the "modern day" and who knows how she has chosen to move forward with her life after finally having the freedom to do so for the first time since she was a child. It would be easy to assume she'll just disappear into the background, but at the same time that feels unlikely. Taskmaster could have died in Black Widow but the character was kept alive almost certainly because there is either a plan for her in the future, or Marvel Studios wants to keep that door open, just in case.
And then finally we have Yelena. Many surmised that she could be getting set up to be the next Black Widow, a new character to take on the mantle of her surrogate sister and stand with the Avengers, and while that didn't quite happen here, the possibility that it could still exists. Yelena is alive and she has a better understanding and appreciation for why Natasha did the things that she did. It's not clear that she's going the pure hero route, but whatever direction life takes her in will be her choice.
Black Widow may not give us any grand concepts like the "Avengers Initiative" that sets up an entire suite of films, but despite the fact that the movie is set in the past, it does move the story forward. In gives us new characters to fall in love with who will almost certainly be important later on, even if we're not sure how that will happen.