With Black Widow marking the end of Natasha Romanoff’s time in the MCU, she exits as one of the most intelligent characters in the franchise. In her first solo outing, new characters make their debut and show great intelligence in their own right. The newcomers include a mind control engineering assassin, the leader of an elite spy training program, and a crafty fast-thinking spy who wants to free the people who have suffered as she has.
It’s not uncommon to have some type of competence in a world of high-class spies where the utilization of the knowledge has the potential to more or less save the world. While having superpowers and high-tech armor has its advantages, Black Widow contains characters who can outsmart the best of them.
10 Ursa Major
Ursa Major is given a few seconds of screen time which wasn’t enough to showcase the intelligence he displays in the comics. As one of the few MCU characters so far with a mutant comic counterpart, he can transform into a humanoid bear while retaining his ability to speak and human intelligence.
While serving time in prison, Ursa makes the not-so-smart decision to challenge fellow inmate Alexei Shostakov to an arm-wrestling match after the Red Guardian claimed to have fought Captain America years before. Alexei isn’t too happy as the super-soldier snaps Ursa’s wrist and humiliates him. Ursa couldn’t show off his intelligence in his only scene but could have the chance if a future Winter Guard team-up happens in the future.
9 Alexei Shostakov
The adoptive father of Yelena and Natasha is no stranger to combat after spending time as the Red Guardian, the Soviet counterpart to Captain America. He gave them up as children to Dreykov and his Red Room after completing a mission where he and Melina Vostokoff extracted information from S.H.I.E.L.D. Alexei can be seen as somewhat emotionally competent, especially while he posed as a family with Yelena, Natasha, and Melina and when they reunited years later.
While more brawn than brains, there are moments that show his knowledge of his daughters despite not seeing them for years. He never forgot the little things about his surrogate family. While Yelena was emotional after not seeing her family for years, Alexei comforted her. As Yelena cries, Alexei sings American Pie by Don McClean, her favorite childhood song and they share a nice moment.
8 Thaddeus Ross
Thaddeus Ross has had his fair share of antagonistic appearances in the MCU thus far as he starts his new position of Secretary of State when Black Widow takes place. His concerns with Avenger-associated individuals are consistent but has showcased that some of his actions aren’t without reason.
As he hunts down the remaining heroes in violation of the Sokovia Accords, he has yet to bring in his most experienced target: Natasha Romanoff. While Ross was quick to handle the likes of Sam Wilson, Clint Barton, and Scott Lang, he couldn’t seem to outsmart Natasha as she’s already in Norway by the time he could even contact her.
7 Rick Mason
Former S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent turned independent contractor Rick Mason has been an ally to Natasha for some time. While much isn’t known about Mason’s past, he had been able to outsmart Thaddeus Ross on multiple occasions during his hunt for Romanoff.
Hiding an Avenger is no easy task and Mason shows to be resourceful. He’s able to keep Romanoff away from Ross by providing her a safe house to stay off the grid. Mason also uses his connections to get her transportation as she attempts to take down the Red Room and provides her with a Quinjet to help set her fellow Avengers free after her mission is complete.
6 Antonia Dreykov
Fundamentally, Antonia could be considered a victim. She was almost a casualty of an assassination attempt on her father Dreykov and placed in the Red Room as a child. On top of becoming her father’s best assassin, he brainwashes her into becoming the Taskmaster. She displays enhanced photographic memory enabling her to gain the knowledge to mimic the fighting styles of different heroes.
Though she’s under her father’s control, the Taskmaster’s combat knowledge is exceptional. She holds her own against Natasha after tracking her down and almost kills her after kicking her off a bridge. Her extreme combat knowledge also gave her a fighting chance with a past his prime but respectable Red Guardian before Melina Vostokoff intervenes.
5 Yelena Belova
Yelena doesn’t glamorize the superhero life as her moral compass isn’t on the same level as Natasha’s. She’s an elite spy in her own right due to her time in the Red Room, giving her immense knowledge in spycraft, martial arts, and weaponry.
Finally free of the mind control of the Red Room, she figured out a way to get the vials containing the Red Dust to Natasha, believing she could free the other Widows. Her fast thinking was a factor in her taking down Dreykov as she used the knowledge gained from the program to execute the person who kept her brainwashed for years. After killing Dreykov, she lives to see the Widows’ liberation. While she isn’t very analytical, her decisions have so far done more good than harm.
4 Valentina Allegra de Fontaine
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier introduced Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, who seems to be recruiting for something greater. Valentina’s vision for timing, use of rhetoric, and recruitment skills are seemingly part of her formula for getting people on board for whatever she needs them to do and so far, it’s worked seamlessly.
In the Black Widow post-credit scene, it’s revealed that she and Yelena had been working together for a while following the death of Natasha. She uses Yelena’s moment of vulnerability to assign Clint Barton as her next target after claiming he’s responsible for her sister’s death. Though she doesn’t have much screen time, Valentina shows that her knowledge of her client’s backgrounds can persuade them to get what she wants.
The intelligence needed to be the mastermind behind the modern Red Room and Taskmaster is impeccable. Dreykov built an empire off the backs of innocent people to turn them into the world’s greatest spies and assassins, as he’s been a challenge to take down over the years.
He’s even thought as far as having a pheromonal lock in all of the Widows to prevent them from physically harming him to stay in power. His sliminess has gotten him far, but Natasha was able to agitate him and make him seem incompetent during their showdown. After an attempted escape, he leaves the ring that accesses his network of Black Widows in the same room he leaves her to die. Despite his genius, he’s not immune to the misdirection of Natasha.
2 Natasha Romanoff
The original Avenger finally got her solo movie after making her debut in Iron Man 2. There have been plenty of instances before as to why she is considered one of the world’s top spies. She’s exposed Hydra, out tricked Loki, and kept the Avengers operating after the Blip, but seeing her away from the Avengers amplified the intelligence she’s displayed previously.
In one of her greatest acts of intelligence in the MCU, she figures out how to get the information needed out of Dreykov to take down the Red Room. Knowing she can’t physically attack him due to the pheromonal lock, she uses the humanity of Dreykov against him. By antagonizing and mocking him, she prompts him into a secret revealing rage exposing the Red Room. After getting the information needed, she breaks her nose to free herself from the lock and attacks Dreykov.
1 Melina Vostokoff
Melina Vostokoff is the latest genius in a franchise full of them. On top of her abilities as a highly-skilled spy and assassin after going through the Red Room four times, she’s an esteemed scientist and engineer.
After years of researching and further developing the mind control used in the Red Room, she ditches her loyalty to Dreykov and uses her knowledge as a spy to infiltrate it. The mastermind behind the plan to free the Widows, she and her family take down the Red Room for good.
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