Natasha Romanoff spent much of her life only relying on her own abilities and forging her own path. She even says in Black Widow that she works better solo (as if she wasn’t working with the Avengers prior to this) But throughout her journey in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and especially in Black Widow, she realizes how important both of her families are to her.
Because as we see in Black Widow, she isn’t as much of a lone wolf as she’d like everyone to believe, especially when it comes to Yelena Belova, who was raised alongside her as a sister. Let’s talk about the sisterly bond between Natasha and Yelena, which is the driving force and heart of the movie.
**Spoilers for the movie Black Widow lie within**
Natasha and Yelena have a fascinating dynamic in Black Widow. It comes from their shared history as well as the time they have spent apart from each other, both undergoing brutal training and dangerous missions.
Despite their shared background, they are very different, and one thing Marvel tends to do well is explore the affections and rivalries that can spring up between siblings. This dynamic is everywhere, whether you’re Wakandan royalty or Asgardian gods or daughters of Thanos from space. Sibling relationships are complicated and can be fraught, but they can also be deeply loving, and this is the centerpiece of Black Widow.
Yelena is the little sister who looks up to Natasha (though she may deny it at first), and was younger and more vulnerable in their early “American” life. Nat doesn’t consider their time together in Ohio to be real, something that hurts Yelena’s feelings.
“It was real to me,” Yelena says when Nat continually doubles down on their “family” not actually being time spent as a family. The two go back and forth on how they interact with each other, and these exchanges make their sibling relationship even more accurate and lived in. Your siblings can be annoying, frustrating, and maybe even horrible—maybe your brother tries to steal your place while your father is in Odinsleep—but ultimately they’re your family. Those bonds mean much can be forgiven or worked through, that’s exactly how these two deadly assassin sisters interact with each other.
Yelena and Natasha in Black Widow work so well because their relationship is instantly recognizable despite their outsize actions and the high stakes of their lives. Yelena is frustrated that her older sibling doesn’t see their time together the same way she does, and Natasha is the older sibling who just brushes her kid sister off. It’s textbook siblings and it’s exactly the kind of dynamic I wanted between the two of them to have from the jump.
What we see in Black Widow is two women trying to figure out what they mean to each other years after the fact. They were separated from each other for decades and went through something horribly traumatizing together. But at the end of the day, they discover that they still see each other as sisters and would clearly do anything for each other. This makes the fact that Natasha sacrificed herself for the Soul Stone and doesn’t get to continue to fix her relationship with Yelena that much worse.
With these two, their problems stem from a lack of admitting that they care. Yelena tries—she brings up how Nat is her sister or that this is her family. Natasha is not so forthcoming. When Yelena and Nat are getting drinks, Yelena even mentions that she sometimes creates a fictional life for her big sister and tells people that Nat is off with some family in California. For her, it was always real and it took Nat being back with Yelena to admit that she feels the same way that Yelena does.
One of my favorite moments in Black Widow comes from Yelena making fun of Natasha for her trademark fighting “pose,” and calls her a poser. Throughout the movie, Yelena mocks her for it until she ends up jumping down from a vent and does the pose herself.
But then she instantly shakes it off like it was the grossest thing she’s ever done. As a younger sister and one that would hate doing anything remotely like either of my brothers, I understood that reaction. I felt it in my bones. In fact, I understood a lot about her and maybe that’s because Yelena is a character I easily relate to, but I think her need for some semblance of normalcy and family is something that many of us can connect with.
She looked up to Natasha and, like a little sister, hated anything she did like her big sister. But that love between both Nat and Yelena is clear throughout the movie, even if they don’t want to admit it to each other. It takes them until the end of the story for Nat to even admit to Yelena that she also considered their time in Ohio to be real to her too. They’re sisters, even if it isn’t by blood, and it was nice to have that for not only Natasha but for the future of Yelena in the MCU.
After Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings continues the tradition of complex, fascinating sibling dynamics among those who can do the improbable. We don’t want to spoil what happens therein yet, but suffice it to say, this is one theme the MCU keeps getting right.
(image: Marvel Entertainment)
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