Black Widow director Cate Shortland on pushing what a Marvel movie can do

Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh in Black Widow
(Image credit: Disney/Marvel)

Black Widow is surprising in many ways. The solo movie, which has been mooted even since Scarlett Johansson first appeared as the character back in Iron Man 2, takes the famously stoic character and sees Natasha confront her past. Who would have thought we would see the Avenger's actual family? Or that the result would be one of Marvel's most envelope pushing movies yet?

It's worth noting, before you see Black Widow, that it's violent. There's some actual blood on screen, which is a rarity in these blockbusters, and Natasha, along with her sister Yelena, kick some serious ass. Yelena also mentions how all the Widows have had forced hysterectomies in the Red Room. That's not a conversation you would expect to see in a typical Disney movie.

"The studio were really supportive of making a film that was true to Natasha and her experiences, and so we never really had any pushback," director Cate Shortland tells GamesRadar+ and Total Film. "We screened the film to [former Disney CEO] Bob Iger, and he encouraged us to go further. He said, 'Let's go further towards empowerment and make it even less afraid.' So I was really lucky, because I just had these great people with me that wanted to make it strong and true to Natasha."

The filmmaker says that, counter to what you may think, working within the Marvel sandbox was a "liberating" experience. "I mean, at first, it was scary," she says. "But once we started, and you're working with these amazing visual designers and the digital team, it was amazing, because you create universes. And what we wanted with the film was to make something really fun that the audience would go on a ride and really enjoy. To me, it was a bit like installation art. How joyous to make this stuff that barely has any dialogue. It looks amazing. It's full of feeling and spectacle. It was a great sandbox. I want to go do it again."

Despite Black Widow being Natasha's story, the real highlight comes in the form of Yelena, played by Florence Pugh, who made waves with her performances in Midsommar and Lady Macbeth. "She is a star already," Shortland says. "Anyone that has seen her in anything, there's an authenticity and a strength about her. People are going to love her in this role. I think it's what she wants to do and she has ideas about what she wants to do [with the character]. That's also why young people relate to her; they see the way she has control over her destiny. And that's new, a 24 year old saying, 'This is how I want to run my life, and I'm going to do it.' That's really beautiful, that self belief and that's why young people find her so exceptionally cool."

Pugh certainly appears to have a future in the MCU – previous reports revealed that she looks set to appear in the upcoming Hawkeye series on Disney Plus. Before then, be sure to catch her performance in Black Widow, which is in UK cinemas from July 7 and US theaters from July 9. The movie will also be available on Disney Plus via Premiere Access that same day.

For more on Black Widow from Cate Shortland, be sure to check out our extended feature on the making of the Marvel movie, also featuring interviews with Pugh, Scarlett Johansson, and Rachel Weisz. 

Jack Shepherd
Freelance Journalist

Jack Shepherd is the former Senior Entertainment Editor of GamesRadar. Jack used to work at The Independent as a general culture writer before specializing in TV and film for the likes of GR+, Total Film, SFX, and others. You can now find Jack working as a freelance journalist and editor.