Avengers: Endgame did a lot over the course of its bonkers, audacious runtime. For better or worse, it kind of had to. But trying to do so much, tying together 10 years of moviemaking into a single, only occasionally coherent narrative, inevitably meant that some plotlines just would not wrap up satisfyingly in the process. Or just be complete messes, like Black Widow’s.
One of the overarching themes of Natasha’s story across the MCU is the concept that this traumatized, lone wolf assassin found an unlikely family in Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, finally able to open herself up to other people and find something worth protecting as she claimed her status as a hero. It is her throughline through the Avengers films, through her relationship with heroes like Hawkeye and Captain America, and something she actively struggles with in the early acts of Endgame, trying to be a hero to what’s left of the world while her exhausted friends break around her. Hell, “found family” is such a fundamental part of her character it’s what her upcoming, prequel solo film is all about. It’s a concept Marvel is actively baking into her origin story!
And yet, Natasha goes out in Endgame—choosing to die by fall on Vormir, to awaken the Soul Stone’s price of losing that which you love most—in a manner predicated on the sentiment that her found family in the Avengers, the one thing she had fought so hard for across her entire time in the MCU, was neither important nor valid. She killed herself so Hawkeye, who had lost everything in Thanos’ snap to the point of becoming a murderous vigilante/weeb enthusiast, could get a chance to get his “real” family back. So that Tony could be with his new one instead of fighting all the time. So Steve Rogers could go back and undermine his own character arc, or whatever the hell that was.
But the point was, as Endgame’s writers repeatedly clarified to the point of frustration after the film’s release, that Natasha killed herself so that her fellow Avengers could be happy instead of her. “Her journey, in our minds, had come to an end if she could get the Avengers back,” Stephen McFeely told the New York Times in one interview. “It was melodramatic to have him [Hawkeye] die and not get his family back. And it is only right and proper that she’s done,” Markus, his screenwriting partner, added. So yeah. It’s not great! But it turns out, we could’ve had something so, so much better.
We’ve known for a good long while that the version of the Vormir scenes we got in the final cut of Endgame was actually reshoots of a much more extravagant action sequence, which would’ve seen Hawkeye and Black Widow face off against Thanos himself, who detects their presence near the soul stone and commands an attack force to assault the planet. We’ve even seen parts of it already in leaked bootleg footage from an early cut.
But overnight a version of the scene—which was, surprisingly, never included on Endgame’s appropriately extravagant home release but has actually been available in its entirety on Disney+ as “Vormir Battle” in the movie’s extras tab since it launched—made its way around social media. This is why, despite the fact that we’ve been able to watch it since last November (and have nothing to do given that Black Widow won’t be out for a while now) we’re once again finding ourselves flabbergasted that we got what we did instead of…this.
Don’t get me wrong: this still doesn’t quite undo the thematic mess that is behind Natasha’s sacrifice on Vormir in the first place. After all, she’s still sacrificing herself for the sake of Hawkeye’s arc than she really is her own. And I guess that there’s something remarkable in the restraint showed that, for at least one scene, someone in the editing room of Endgame went “Isn’t this a bit too much extravagant action in a three-hour movie that is approximately 80 per cent explosions and 20 per cent bad time travel?” But the tone of it, the manner of it, the circumstance of it in the moment? It is infinitely more satisfying than her kick-flipping herself off the side of a damn cliff so Clint can have his farmhouse back.
It’s heroic. She goes out fighting, not just that, she goes out an Avenger, the thing that she has come to love most in this world, defending her friend with every last ounce of strength she can muster, even as she takes shot after shot from Thanos’ hordes. Questions still would’ve lingered as to why it had to be Black Widow over Hawkeye to have the sacrifice, but they would’ve certainly been less bitter if this was the exit that made it to screens on opening night.
Now we just need to find out if there was ever a version of this movie where Nat got a funeral even half as extravagant as Tony Stark’s, even before they cut that godawful kneeling bit. Perchance to dream?