In Defense of Taskmaster

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It has been nearly a week since Black Widow was released in theaters and Disney+. After a long two-year wait for the return of Marvel to the movies, saying I was filled with unbridled excitement is the understatement of the century. It felt like a reprieve of normalcy in such a difficult and trying time. If you are like me, you have probably watched the movie multiple times already, hoping to catch every minute detail that can be rung out of it. Isn’t it fantastic? Welcome back Marvel Studios, we’ve missed you.

Black Widow was an enjoyable journey through a period of the MCU that had not yet been explored. Having the difficult job of showcasing a period shoehorned by what viewers saw previously, the movie helped to fill in gaps without feeling like it was repeating itself. It was exciting to finally see Scarlett Johanson’s Natasha Romanoff as the hero of her own movie, instead of a second fiddle or a love interest to someone else.

Sure, the movie had some flaws, but nothing so glaring that distracted me from the story. Florence Pugh gave a standout performance as Yelena Belova, which at times outshined others throughout the film. Though that is expected from any performance she’s attached to. Her balance of drama and comedy felt refreshing in a universe in its second decade of movies and shows. 

As I am a gigantic Marvel Studios fanatic, I may not be the best to ask for an impartial review of their new movies. Each one is magical and special in some way or another. So I try my best to digest others’ critiques without too much objection. Though one complaint that has been rippling through the multiverse at breakneck speed has urged me to speak out. That being that Taskmaster is lame as far as villains go. Villain? Seriously? Was I watching a different movie? It’s time to set the record straight. Please be aware there are major SPOILERS for Black Widow discussed below!

This Taskmaster is a Victim, not a villain

There I said it. If there was one big takeaway from the movie, for me at least, it was how the Black Widows that are still involved with the Red Room are all Dreykov’s victims and Antonia, aka Dreykov’s daughter, aka The Taskmaster, is no different in that regard. Early in the film, Natasha discovers that Dreykov (Ray Winstone), whom she believed was killed prior, was alive and still running the Red Room. However, instead of brainwashing the Black Widows the old fashion way, Dreykov was using a chemical agent to control their minds and bodies. This was not just one or two assassins, but an entire globe strewn with Black Widows that he could control with a few strokes on a keyboard.

Yelena is given a cure early on in the film, releasing her from Dreykov’s control. This single event causes a chain reaction, leading Natasha, Yelena, and their haphazard family on a mission to right some wrongs. Over the course of the movie, the characters discuss multiple times that the women still being controlled by the Red Room are not villains. Instead, they are victims because they have lost all free will, becoming passengers in their own minds.

This is something that Yelena struggles with initially, knowing what she did when her body was not hers. This is why Natasha’s plan is to stop Dreykov and not the programmed Widows. Because he is the true villain of the movie. The man behind the curtain.

Antonia aka Taskmaster

Antonia Drekov aka Taskmaster unmasked.

So why is Taskmaster any different than the rest of the Black Widows? Towards the end, we discover that Taskmaster is Dreykov’s daughter Antonia. Someone Natasha believed was killed as collateral damage. Which through the familial connection, some could infer that perhaps the apple does not fall far from the tree. However, the audience learns that Antonia (played by Olga Kurylenko) isn’t acting of her own violation. She is also being controlled by her father to act as a trained killer. She lacked the free will to make her own decisions throughout the movie, showcasing that she is in the same boat as all the other women being controlled. 

Now those of you thinking “Taskmaster is a villain in the comics! Therefore a villain in the movies!” Many characters have been altered by Marvel Studios to either update them or add depth to the movie. The entire debacle with Mantis and her creator comes to mind.

For Black Widow specifically, Taskmaster is used to further showcase the cruelty of the true villain (Dreykov, if you haven’t noticed the soapbox I’ve been standing on). Dreykov is incredibly vicious and heartless as a person. Not only did he capture and train young girls around the world to be assassins, as well as torture them and conduct procedures on them against their will, he was willing to also do it to his own child. That’s incredibly sick and sadistic on so many levels. 

Dreykov with Antonia/Taskmaster

On a different level, some might think having a movie that is about female empowerment and starring an almost completely female cast would not necessarily be a smart move for Marvel Studios. Having a movie about women gaining their power back by also having the villain be a woman, feels like the bad would cancel out any good the message was trying to send. 

For decades, the movie industry has showcased that for women to be powerful, they must also be cruel or cold. However, Natasha and other female leads in the MCU have shown us over the past decade of storytelling that a powerful woman can be warm, funny, caring and heroic. She can be someone that children everywhere can look up to. So to have a powerful but cruel and cold woman as her opponent in this movie, I believe, would have contradicted a message Marvel has been working hard on delivering. 

At times I do wish we would have seen more of Antonia/Taskmaster as a character. Being able to sit with her, both through more action scenes, as well as diving deep into her psyche, would have helped to flesh her out a bit more. However, this was sacrificed for the twist of her true identity, which is perhaps an acceptable tradeoff. 

Knowing Marvel Studios, this isn’t the last time we’ll see this character. I think it would be foolish to waste this character, that has barely begun to show her true potential. It seems likely that she will appear in a future movie or Disney+ show, perhaps with a new boss in Valentina. I think it’s safe to assume she’ll be up for the task, whatever task she must master.

Here is hoping we get to see her healing her wounded psyche, or attempt to, after such unspeakable abuse from her own father. This would indeed be an uplifting message for an audience about a character who has been through so much horror in her life. My hope is that after reading this article people might better understand that regardless of her role as a villain within the pages of the comics, Olga Kurylenko’s Antonia Dreykov, aka The Taskmaster, is a victim. Both to her father’s wicked schemes and the harsh views of the audience. 

Black Widow is currently in theaters and on a Disney+ with premier access. 

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Brian Kitson

Working hard to bring you the latest news and thoughtful analysis of all things nerdy!

Brian Kitson has 358 posts and counting. See all posts by Brian Kitson