Redemption is a common theme that appears when looking at the cast of Thunderbolts, and of all the characters that will make up the movie's team of anti-heroes, there's one MCU bad guy that's in desperate need of it: Antonia Dreykov aka Taskmaster.
The cool part of Black Widow is that it made Taskmaster the pay-off to a decade-old mystery from 2012's The Avengers of Black Widow having red in her ledger; the not-so-cool part is that may be the most interesting thing about the character so far.
It's a lot different than Tony Masters' comic book origin, which the movie's writer claims was because the classic Taskmaster wouldn't have made sense for the Black Widow story they were trying to fit him into. The explanation seemed a bit contradictory, making it appear that Taskmaster's inclusion in Black Widow may have been a mistake in the first place.
With almost 10 years of in-universe time between Black Widow and Thunderbolts to allow for course correction, there are a few stops Marvel should make along the way to warm fans to the Taskmaster being brought into the modern-day MCU.
1. Make Taskmaster Talk
This past summer, writer Eric Kripke made it a priority for fans to love his character Black Noir in Season 3 of The Boys, and he did so by ensuring the audience spent quality time with the character. Despite Noir's hidden face and inability to speak, The Boys creatively explored the speechless superhero by using some pretty out-of-the-box imagery to showcase Black Noir's battered-and-bruised psyche.
Now, Marvel Studios doesn't need to create its own version of a living, breathing Chuck E. Cheese to make Taskmaster a more likable character; it doesn't even have to give Antonia an actual voice in Thunderbolts. But Marvel used everyone except Antonia Dreykov to tell her own tragedy in Black Widow.
Even if Marvel decides to lean into the stone-cold-silence schtick that Taskmaster had in Black Widow, there are still many creative ways that Antonia can become an interesting and beloved MCU character. In fact, her silence may be a trait that a teammate like Bucky Barnes appreciates since he'll already have his hands full with the chattier super soldiers in John Walker and Red Guardian.
If Marvel wants people to latch onto the Taskmaster it has created for the MCU, then fans will need to find a reason to feel for the character. Using flashbacks to Antonia's trauma or showing a continuation of how she's learning to live in a world without her crooked father is crucial to understanding Taskmaster now that she's her own person.
Make audiences hear Taskmaster, even if it isn't with words.
2. Introduce the MCU to Taskmaster
One trait of the Thunderbolts movie that some fans are concerned about is the lack of diversity in its lineup, specifically in the superpower sector. All of the guys on Taskmaster's new squad are a variety of super soldiers, and she isn't even the only product of the Red Room on the team.
With Ghost being the only exception, Taskmaster won't have to use a ton of creativity to adapt to her newfound mates.
Some are disappointed by this since Taskmaster's ability to mimic combat depends entirely on who she's surrounded by. Obviously, there will be people other than her own teammates for Taskmaster to fight in Thunderbolts, but it will be interesting to see who they'll pit her against since most of her squad specializes in close-quarters combat.
The MCU has become a plethora of superpowered people for Taskmaster to copy. Whether it's a run-in with an Avenger like Sam Wilson's Captain America or even taking a trip to Madripoor, Taskmaster needs to be put in an environment where fans can see her epic ability to use someone's own combat against them.
3. Show Taskmaster's Talent, Not Her Tech
Another gripe fans had about the MCU's Taskmaster was that she became yet another super-powered character from the comics that is reliant upon largely-unexplained technology to have the same abilities in the movies.
Taskmaster's most iconic trait is that he can analyze and mimic the fighting patterns and abilities of his opponent in real-time, making him a threat to most of the Marvel names he finds himself up against.
However, "Taskmaster" is more of a technological initiative built by the Red Room than it is a superpowered person in the MCU; Thunderbolts is Marvel's first opportunity to change that and show Antonia take personal ownership of the Taskmaster mantle. Whether that's by learning how to repurpose the Taskmaster tech that's inside of her or by ditching it entirely, Marvel needs to improve its take on what it actually means to be Taskmaster.
It could be that Antonia's extended exposure to the Taskmaster technology developed a natural inclination for her iconic mimicry, which will require less programming and more instinct while also necessitating Antonia's continued use of the Taskmaster suit. This would put more of the ability in Antonia's own hands now that her father no longer controls who she goes after.
4. Is Taskmaster Good, Evil, or Both?
One thing Thunderbolts will have to make clear is Taskmaster's moral compass.
Black Widow only featured Antonia for a few seconds after being under Dreykov's control, so no one has seen even a speck of personality from Antonia since she's been her own person. A tortured soul for sure, it's intriguing to imagine how Antonia will interact with other victims like Bucky Barnes, Red Guardian, and Ghost.
With that said, arguably one of Taskmaster's most iconic traits is his lack of loyalty. Between always serving the highest bidder and sometimes literally forgetting who he was thanks to his memories being overwritten by his photographic reflexes, not even Taskmaster himself could predict what he would do next.
It wouldn't be difficult to begin crafting the character more similar to the merciless mercenary from the comics now that she has her own free will. Place her on a team filled with questionable morals and some terrible impressions can be made on Taskmaster that may stick around for the long haul.
Is Thunderbolts Make-or-Break for Taskmaster?
Many think Taskmaster wasn’t developed past the surface level in order to not take away from Natasha's story in Black Widow. Although some believe it may have been better to leave Taskmaster out of the movie, Black Widow gave Antonia Deykov a tragic, MCU-relevant backstory and then hit the reset button on her mind for the next project to do whatever they want with the character.
Everyone who has escaped the Red Room so far has had a great MCU redemption story. Now, it can be Taskmaster's turn. There are plenty of opportunities to pit Taskmaster against other MCU heroes and a multitude of ways for Antonia to improve. For instance, Val could get her hands on some black market data cartridges for Taskmaster's neck chip so she can learn the latest from fighters like Moon Knight and Shang-Chi.
Speaking of Shang-Chi, one way that Marvel could naturally depict Taskmaster squaring off against a variety of MCU fighters is through Xialing's Golden Daggers Club. If Antonia wants to become more than a Red Room assassin, perhaps fans could get a training montage of Taskmaster fighting other MCU contenders like Asgardian warriors and Masters of Mystic Arts, or possibly even another familiar Merc, one that actually uses his mouth.
By the time Thunderbolts debuts in summer 2024, it'll be nearly 10 years in the MCU since Taskmaster was last seen. There's no telling where she's been since she jumped on the jet with Yelena and Alexei at the end of Black Widow, but Antonia's had a lot of time to be reintroduced to the world. Whether she's renounced her abilities or been using them for her own good, Thunderbolts will be responsible for Taskmaster's MCU tone going forward.