One prominent box office writer and movie critic wrote few years back that the inception of connected universes have made it nearly impossible to judge a single movie on its own merits. The connect story and payoffs few years down the line shed new light on a passing line uttered by the character. That is what happened for MCU’s latest released Black Widow, a throwaway line in Avengers turned into Taskmaster, but without proper development the subsequent revelation felt flat.
Black Widow is not available in theatres and on Disney Plus and it sheds some light on Natasha Romanoff before she became the famed Avenger. The movie delved into her “family” life as well as what really happened in Budapest. It was also a farewell picture that eventually set up more storylines for the small and big screens.
In the movie, Natasha is on the run after breaching the Sokovia accords. She makes her way to Norway but there she comes face to face with Taskmaster, someone, Nat did not realize at the time, that was from her supposedly-haunted past. With abilities to mimic techniques of anyone it sees, the villain of Black Widow posed a new threat for Nat. There were speculations on the identity of Taskmaster but when time came to pay off on the hype, the moment felt a little contrived, even more so when you try to draw a Captain America–Winter Soldier parallel. (Spoilers Ahead!)
Black Widow’s Taskmaster Revelation – Years of Underutilization Comes to Bite the MCU
The biggest problem with the MCU has always been its villains. Most of the baddies in the interconnected universe have been underdeveloped. As the stories themselves are building to a larger connected storyline, the antagonists are simply TV style, villain of the week type affair. Black Widow falls into the same trap of most solo MCU movies.
Whether it is Drushov or Taskmaster, no one ever mentioned their names in the past 20+ movies in the MCU. No character development or even a mention of those characters which seemingly were consequential in turning Nat into the person she is in the MCU was not Scarlett Johansson’s fault. For years Black Widow’s character was marginalized to the fringes and no mention of her past all came back to bite MCU in the rear.
The one time we heard someone mention Nat’s past was in the first Avengers movie when Loki talks about all the red in her ledger. That line is repeated in Black Widow movie and after 9 years we know what it really means. Still, in the Avengers, we see fake remorse from Black Widow who is just trying to extract information from Loki. But all of that is turned into a massive come-to-Jesus moment in the latest movie.
By the red in the ledger and mention of Budapest in the first Avengers movie, we finally come to understand it was a dark moment in Natasha’s life. She was involved in rooting out the Red Room and her only entry into SHIELD and a way out of the Widow program was to kill Drushov. So, in Budapest Nat uses Drushov’s daughter to lure the mastermind into a building, and proceeds to blow it with the kid inside.
This was not even the biggest revelation of the movie, that title was reserved for Taskmaster. After years of speculation, we were finally given a look under the helmet. Taskmaster was none other than Drushov’s daughter, the same one Black Widow blew up before joining SHIELD. A profound revelation of that proportion, landed flat.
Nat was remorseful for what had become of the little girl and she was also apologetic but that emotional moment played off as just another set of events in the movie. The reason is simple, we had no idea she felt this way about her past. Black Widow wanted to present a story about redemption, about Natasha clearing the red in her ledger, but without proper understanding of why she was remorseful, or even if she ever was, it just did not work.
Olga Kurylenko played Taskmaster in the Disney Plus/MCU movie, a Bond girl and established actress in her own right. She had one line in the whole movie and maybe five frames of screen time. If the writers wanted us to feel sorry for her or even hate Black Widow a little bit for what she did to the kid, then they were unsuccessful.
By the end of the movie Black Widow refuses to fight Taskmaster. She does not want to hurt her, maybe if she dies, that would be penance for years of servitude the little girl was put through. It was also a similar scene to one in Captain America: The Winter Soldier where Steve stops fighting Bucky. There was a massive buildup to that moment for the two characters, unlike Black Widow, we were not forced to care about a character we did not even knew existed 2 days ago.
Black Widow was a nice tribute to one of the original Avengers. Scarlett Johansson’s character deserved her own solo outing but years of neglect and lack of proper story development for the lone female Avenger resulted in a flat climax in her origin story. Hawkeye’s pain in Endgame worked because Age of Ultron spared time to build out his past, the same luxury was not afforded to Black Widow. So, forgive us if we do not care about the Taskmaster revelation and the whole redemption arc of the third act.
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