The Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken criticism for its lackluster villains since the very beginning, and despite a handful of incredible standouts, they still occasionally miss the mark. Black Widow's primary threat was controversial, in part because it borrowed the name and powers of an existing character it had little to do with.
Black Widow was the long-awaited MCU solo project for the eponymous spy who had previously only played sidekick to other heroes. The film enjoyed a mixed response for a variety of reasons, including its general lack of importance to the overall narrative and its shoddy editing, but its halfhearted attempts at a dynamic antagonist were universally panned.
Taskmaster was created in 1980 by David Michelinie and George Perez for Avengers #195. Tony Masters is a man born with a bizarre physiological trait referred to as "photographic reflexes," which allows him to replicate any action after having seen it once. This allows him to instantly master any skill that it is possible for a human being to accomplish, so peak human heroes like Captain America, Hawkeye, or Black Widow are his typical nemeses. Masters uses his gift as a mercenary, career criminal, and combat training expert. Often he prefers to train others to do crime rather than pursue it himself due to his risk-averse tendencies.
Taskmaster is a varied character, often shifting from mid-level villain to leader of nameless henchmen to occasional minor good guy. His motivations are monetary and survival-based, so he can fit into almost any element of a story. Unfortunately, Taskmaster's power comes at a cost; he suffers from permanent memory loss which makes him even less predictable. This bizarre confluence of elements makes Taskmaster a funny character with an occasionally tragic streak. The MCU answer to Taskmaster is very different.
Black Widow featured the first on-screen depiction of Taskmaster, at least in name. The film did not feature Tony Masters, nor his trademark look. The film opts instead, to update the depiction of the character with military style plating and a mask that looks more like snowboarding gear than Master's eerily authentic skull visage. Underneath the film's mask is Antonia Dreykov, portrayed by Olga Kurylenko, the presumed dead daughter of Red Room overseer General Dreykov. Antonia, like Masters, was born with an uncanny ability to mimic others' skills. Unlike Masters, she was badly injured in an assassination attempt on her father, then was placed under the full control of her father via a chip in her brain. While she does copy some of the Avenger's moves, she fails to copy Tony Master's presentation, likability, and potential in the storyline.
The change is made for obvious reasons. Tony Masters is not particularly tied in with Natasha Romanov's storyline, so the filmmakers borrowed the basics and applied them to someone who did. Unfortunately, their take on Taskmaster is essentially a mindless automaton programmed with some memorable combat skills. While she is broken from her father's control and able to escape in the conclusion of the film, it's hard to imagine a Taskmaster with this backstory having anything close to the comic version's future. In fact, Taskmaster being tied so deeply in with Romanov is more likely to ensure fans won't see the character again because Romanov died without resurrection in Avengers: Endgame. The character could theoretically make a comeback, but all fans have seen her do so far is copy others and escape capture.
In the comics, Taskmaster trains U.S. Agent to act as a replacement for Captain America. This seems serendipitous because Falcon and the Winter Soldier's conclusion saw John Walker take up that mantle. Of course, Walker was already performing to the standards of Cap before switching titles, so there isn't much need for training in that storyline. Some minor villains like Frank Grillo's Crossbones were also trainees of Taskmaster in the comics, but the films did not portray that aspect. Given the status of the Avengers after Endgame, Taskmaster would not make a sufficient threat for the whole team, unless paired with several other villains. There are other roles for the character. in fact, there's one role that could blend the new character's presentation with the source material and play with a criticism the MCU has received for years.
Most Marvel villains come complete with an entourage of nameless, faceless henchmen who exist solely to be easily crushed by the heroes. These armies of government agents, aliens, robotic constructs, criminal thugs, or otherwise amassed hostiles are typically nothing but a canvas for showing off the heroes' powers. Taskmaster could be the force in the MCU that redeems these countless forgotten figures.
Imagine Taskmaster returning from obscurity with a small team of elite former henchmen, trained to expert proficiency by her skills. A former HYDRA corrupted S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, a Ten Rings warrior, a Chitauri soldier, a Dormammu cultist from Doctor Strange, maybe even a Wakandan who still holds Killmonger's message as law. All given new identities as full-fledged villains under Taskmaster's banner. This could be a rare type of villain for the MCU, a team of mid-card antagonists rather than one big bad and a thousand bodies.
Taskmaster is a fun character who doesn't get enough attention, and his only film adaptation being a totally new character is just one great example. There are ways of bringing MCU's Taskmaster back that could be very satisfying, but some fans will always hold hope that Tony Masters will one day get his day on the screen.
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