Warning - This article contains spoilers for Black Widow.
Black Widow has finally arrived in theaters and on Disney+, bringing an end to the two-year MCU drought at the movies. And, for the most part, it didn’t disappoint.
In fact, the Scarlett Johansson-led thriller wasted no time putting some box office records to shame during its opening weekend. But that doesn’t mean that the first MCU film since 2019 is a masterpiece. Not by a long shot.
One of the fans’ biggest gripes with 2021’s Black Widow was its misuse of arguably the most-talked-about player thrown into the mix — Taskmaster.
But why exactly was Taskmaster such a disappointment? Unfortunately, there isn’t just one reason as to why fans were disappointed with the mercenary's MCU debut.
BLACK WIDOW FUMBLED THE TASK AT HAND
It was already considered a questionable choice to include Taskmaster in a story centered around Natasha Romanoff and the Red Room, but audiences remained hopeful that perhaps the Marvel mercenary was being introduced through shared interests with the Russian agency.
What fans would learn after seeing the film is that was far from the case. Instead of introducing the infamous Tony Masters as the man behind the iconic Taskmaster skull as he is in Marvel Comics, it was instead a disfigured, mind-controlled Antonia Dreykov — the daughter of the Red Room’s head honcho.
Although this fit into the Mission Impossible-type feel of the MCU film and made for a fun, twist-reveal related to the title character’s arc, it didn’t sit right with many as it became increasingly questionable as to why Taskmaster was needed for Marvel Studios' Black Widow to succeed — especially when they had to change so much about the character.
Black Widow writer Eric Pearson recently admitted that it was always the plan for Taskmaster to be involved in the project, but Marvel didn't seem willing to craft an origin for the character outside of Natasha Romanoff's story.
So, right away, the Taskmaster character was hurt by being put in a box that the character simply doesn't fit into without some serious changes being made.
A FOCAL POINT FOR BLACK WIDOW MARKETING
The way that Taskmaster was marketed in promotional footage and other material for Black Widow put a variety of the villain’s abilities on display, getting fans excited to see mercenary’s iconic mimicry in action. However, fans were confused after seeing the MCU flick because it contained almost no unseen footage of Taskmaster in combat.
In fact, the reveal that Taskmaster was secretly Antonia Dreykov was essentially the only important element to the character that was kept out of promotional footage, letting fans down as they expected to see the mercenary in fighting form rather than acting as nothing more than a Russian attack dog.
And on top of all of that, the Taskmaster that fans finally got to meet in the MCU hardly utilized the traits and abilities that make the character unique, such as the master mimicry or cold-blooded guerilla tactics. What was shown in the trailers was basically all fans got from the character in her MCU debut.
Of course, this isn’t entirely the film’s fault as they essentially had to promote this movie a second time after nearly completing a press tour following COVID-19 delays.
Nevertheless, Taskmaster’s arsenal that was put on display in Black Widow was almost entirely revealed in the movie’s marketing, leaving fans with little new content that hadn’t been seen in trailers playing for the past year-and-a-half.
NO ACTING REQUIRED FOR TASKMASTER
Another reason many fans couldn’t get on board with the MCU take on Taskmaster was that she largely didn’t feel like a real person. And while that may have been the goal to an extent, it only hurt the audience’s impression of what they thought was hyped up to be one of Marvel’s next big bads.
When The Direct first reported that Olga Kurylenko would have a limited role in Black Widow, no one was expecting that role to be who Marvel marketed as the main antagonist of the film. In fact, considering the actress’ real-life Russian background, the main guess as to who Kurylenko would play was Red Widow — a character in Black Widow comic lore that actually could have actually served a better purpose than Taskmaster.
Despite this, Kurylenko only uttered three words throughout the duration of the film and was otherwise a silent, poorly-developed character that seemed to exist only to draw in fans that would have otherwise written Black Widow off.
Because of this, Taskmaster relied solely on the surrounding characters in the film to further her own development, which greatly hurt her in the end. And since Taskmaster wasn’t an actual focal point of the film, as she was marketed to be, the beloved Marvel character may feel like an overall waste.
WHY USE TASKMASTER AT ALL?
Taskmaster and Black Widow's stories could not have been more separated in the comics. Yet Marvel Studios decided to intertwine the two within the Black Widow MCU lore almost to a fault because now it’s near impossible to use one without the other.
Nevertheless, Marvel seemed very adamant about including Taskmaster in the Red Room story that would be tied to Black Widow, causing fans to question what part of the character made this necessary.
Marvel seems to be steering away from making a film’s main antagonist an evil, copycat version of the movie’s hero, which could explain why a more appropriate character like Red Widow was overlooked for the MCU's twenty-fourth theatrical installment.
But the last time the studio over-corrected with a comic book villain, Iron Man 3 received some of the heaviest criticism ever hurled at a Marvel movie when they botched the Mandarin. In fact, it was so bad that they had to produce the Marvel One-Shot: All Hail the King and include a more accurate version of the Marvel baddy as the main antagonist in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings eight years later to amend it.
The MCU steps outside the box with character origins and ideas fairly often, and they certainly aren’t all home runs. But Taskmaster specifically was a flop for several reasons — the largest being an issue that Marvel has struggled with for years: taking an iconic Marvel villain and putting a twist so unforgivable that it almost creates a new character entirely while simultaneously wasting the original character intended to be utilized.
In Marvel Comics, Taskmaster is a mercenary whose defining trait is being able to remember and replicate anyone’s preferred combat or other athletic patterns with a single look. But it comes at a cost as the memory it takes to remember everyone’s fighting style actually replaces Taskmaster's memory for the most basic things, such as where he was in the world last week or even what he had for dinner last night.
In 2021's Black Widow, Taskmaster was depicted as a henchman for the Red Room that had no personality or free will. Sounds like they at least left a lot of room for the character to show off her capabilities in combat, right?
Well, Marvel didn’t focus on that either. Almost all of Taskmaster’s iconic mimicry was revealed in promotional footage for Black Widow and was scarcely utilized throughout the film.
The common assumption is that Taskmaster wasn’t developed past the minimal surface level in order to not take away from the true purpose of Black Widow — to act as a hero’s tribute to Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff. But if that’s truly what this movie was supposed to be, then why did the studio need an excuse to burn through an iconic Marvel villain that everyone was looking forward to seeing in the MCU?
TASKMASTER, ANOTHER WINTER SOLDIER
Another question to ask is why Marvel seems so obsessed with including mindless killers in its work.
It would have added so much more depth to Taskmaster’s character if Antonia Dreykov had a personal stake in this story, but she was instead controlled by her father just like the rest of the Widows in the film. After all, she was the true victim of Natasha’s past, yet she was used as an attack dog for a man that couldn’t have cared less about her.
This feels overly derivative of one of the MCU’s most popular stories through the last ten years: the Winter Soldier.
In fact, Black Widow is a direct continuation of the story told in Captain America: Civil War, but fans didn’t expect the premise to feel the same as the Captain America trilogy, too.
The way that Taskmaster was used in Black Widow, combined with the super soldier story fans already got this year in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, is worrisome as Marvel is seemingly having a hard time developing characters that aren’t the focal point of the story. And in this case, another iconic Marvel villain was put to waste as a result.
After all, Bucky Barnes is finally getting the closure he needs after spending decades under HYDRA’s control. Why is Marvel so quick to introduce another story with the exact same implications?
Many agree that it’s time to move past this archetype and to move on to new, original stories that don’t damage the characters that so many fans are eager to see adapted. Taskmaster is just another victim of writing a project that does not consider the greater implications of the MCU.
TASKMASTER NO MORE?
The last — and possibly most disappointing — notion that Taskmaster fans were left with is that Antonia Dreykov may not even want to continue being Taskmaster after the events of Black Widow. With her father dead and no one left to control her, there’s a very good chance that Antonia is going to want nothing more than to leave this life as Taskmaster behind her.
The only comfort that fans have that they may see Taskmaster return is that Black Widow continued on to become an Avenger following her experience with the Red Room. Perhaps Antonia will take after Natasha in that sense and try to do good from now on, but only time will tell. And it won't repair the damage that's been done to Taskmaster's MCU potential.
Antonia Dreykov has no clear motivation to continue being Taskmaster, leaving fans questioning what the point was for the character to be adapted in this manner.
The distinct mimicry was minimal and clearly not a priority for the filmmakers, the character only spoke a handful of words, and now that she’s not the Red Room’s version of the Winter Soldier, there’s nothing left for Antonia but to leave with the other Widows at the end of the film. Not exactly the exciting ending that Taskmaster the Marvel faithful were hoping for.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE MCU’S TASKMASTER?
It seems like, more than anything, Marvel needed an attack dog for Dreykov that was a step above his Widows, and they went with Taskmaster to give audiences someone familiar that would instantly add gravity to the situation and the Black Widow film as a whole.
But, they totally botched it by making Taskmaster basically just another Widow with the extra (although seldom used) ability to mimic combat patterns.
In the MCU, Taskmaster is Dreykov’s daughter — the red in Natasha Romanoff’s ledger. While it’s fulfilling for Black Widow to come back around to this small piece of character development in 2012’s The Avengers, it will hardly seem worth it as it took away from one of Marvel’s best and most unique mercenaries.
In essence, Taskmaster inclusion in Black Widow feels like a cop-out to give comic fans a reason to see the film if they weren’t already on board. The fact of the matter is that no part of Black Widow’s story would have been hindered or gone unaccomplished if the Taskmaster name hadn’t been used for Dreykov’s daughter.
There are better, more logical Marvel characters that could have been used to serve the same purpose as Taskmaster and would have been more efficient in doing so. But because Marvel seemingly didn’t want another antagonist that was a darkened version of the film’s title character, they went with Taskmaster instead. Their goal was to add variety, yet it only forced Taskmaster into an MCU mold that’s already been over-utilized.
So, if Marvel Studios wanted to introduce Taskmaster, yet didn’t want to dive deep into his defining traits, then why use Taskmaster at all?