‘Black Widow’: This Might Be Fans’ New Favorite Character, Thanks to David Harbour

It almost goes without saying that Black Widow will be a hit. The Marvel Studios logo all but guarantees a hit, and the general consensus says that most of their 23 movies are good. So it’s nice when we see signs that something besides the Marvel name has fans excited. 

The cast of Black Widow has significantly piqued fans’ interest. Florence Pugh broke out in a big way this year, and it’s widely speculated that her character will be the new Black Widow. People knew who David Harbour was thanks to Stranger Things, but fans love the freewheeling spin he’s giving Red Guardian and are even having fun connecting dots between him and Harbour’s Chief Hopper. 

David Harbour on the red carpet
David Harbour | Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

Who does Harbour play in Black Widow? 

In the comics, Red Guardian is the Soviet/Russian equivalent of Captain America — the superhero as a national symbol. This would seem to make Red Guardian a villain, because the simplified version of history tells us that America = good and Russia = bad. However, this has not always been the case, in real life, or in the comics. 

There have been a few different versions of the character. The original was Aleksey Lebedev, who fought alongside Captain America in World War II, when the Soviets fought with the US and the Allied powers against the Axis powers, including the Nazis. The second version, the one Harbour is playing,  is Alexi Shostakov, one of the Soviet Union’s most acclaimed test pilots who was married to Natasha before she became Black Widow. 

The KGB faked Shostakov’s death, and after that happened, the character had a complicated history. He became Red Guardian after the Soviets passed over Yuri Gagarin, the real-life Soviet hero who was the first man in space. When Black Widow defected to the United States, Red Guardian remained loyal. He later resurfaced as a villain named The Widowmaker. 

David Harbour makes Black Widow goofy

All that sounds like deadly serious stuff, and critics sometimes complain comic book stories take themselves too seriously. The movie Black Widow and Harbour in particular seem to realize this, injecting much -needed humor into what might otherwise be a very dire tale. 

It’s not entirely clear if the movie’s Red Guardian is a hero or a villain, but either way, as Screen Rant points out, he seems to be played for laughs, not quite being able to fit into his super suit, although he thinks he does.  In a way, he plays like a variation of “fat Thor.” from Avengers: Endgame, The Guardian may look like melted ice cream, but he seems to be far from the despair and self-loathing that had plagued Thor. 

Harbour said during Comic-Con, “So in that way, he’s a foil, and so, he has very complicated feelings about (being Red Guardian) . But, you know, the Soviet Union fell and a lot of things went down with him in particular, and now he’s in a different place in his life … I don’t want to give too much away,” he said.

Is Red Guardian Chief Hopper’s fate?

Fans like to point out that Harbour has many strange claims to Russia. First, his Stranger Things character Chief Hopper mysteriously vanished  while fighting Russian forces at the end of Season 3, and he may or may not be held captive in a Russian cell.

Now he’s playing a Russian maybe hero/maybe villain. Fans are having all kinds of fun speculating that Chief Hopper became Red Guardian. 

There’s no real connection, of course, but Red Guardian and Chief Hopper have more similarities than just the obvious Russian connection. Both characters poke fun at their supposedly heroic images, and it’s possible to read either character as a hero or a villain. Hopper is supposed to be one of the good guys on Stranger Things, but some people, including actress Evan Rachel Wood, criticized his behavior in Season 3 as an example of toxic masculinity. 

While we don’t know for sure what became of Hopper and we don’t know for sure how Red Guardian will play, it’s clear that Harbour is having fun with both roles, approaching them with good humor, on camera and off.