Super-spy Natasha Romanoff’s solo prequel is hitting theatres on 1st May, with the latest Black Widow trailer promising an epic journey for Scarlett Johansson’s character. As well as more glimpses at Natasha’s first dysfunctional family pre-Avengers, the footage also gave fans a closer look at the film’s mysterious villain, Taskmaster.
But who is he? How does the character’s MCU debut defer from the comics? And, more importantly, who is under the skull-like mask? Here’s what we know so far…
Who is Taskmaster?
In the Marvel Comics, Taskmaster, born Anthony “Tony” Masters, carves out a lucrative career for himself training criminals in combat. He has the nifty ability to mimic any physical movement he witnesses (aka “photographic reflexes”), but he can’t do anything superhuman or something he physically couldn’t do as a normal human (so no summoning thunder or smashing up Norse gods).
In the Black Widow movie we can see this ability in action as he shows off Captain America-style shield skills and archery probably based on Hawkeye, as well as various hand-to-hand combat techniques.
He first cropped up in The Avengers #196 back in 1980, and has made numerous appearances, mainly in Deadpool comics, since. On top of his criminal-training academy, he’s also a mercenary-for-hire on the side.
A 2011 storyline gave Taskmaster a meatier backstory, revealing that he was actually a S.H.I.E.L.D agent who had taken a super serum that gave him his abilities. As a side-effect, he could only retain so much information in his brain, which caused him to forget the woman he loved. It also revealed that he had been unwittingly working for S.H.I.E.L.D the whole time.
The recent Black Widow trailer confirmed that Taskmaster’s villain personal trainer background will be honoured, as he is revealed to be the head of the new Red Room, where Black Widows earn their deadly fighting skills. Beyond that, we don’t know much else other than the fact Taskmaster has been studying the Avengers’ fighting style, and his supersuit includes T’Challa’s Black Panther claws.
Who is playing Taskmaster?
Ah, the million dollar question. Whereas Marvel is generally keen to reveal the actors playing its villains (as with Josh Brolin as Thanos and Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio), the studio has kept unusually quiet about this one – generating a lot of hype around Taskmaster’s identity, and leading to rife speculation.
One of the most popular theories is that Rachel Weisz will be behind the mask. The Mummy star is playing fellow Black Widow Melina Vostokoff, who is also a sort of surrogate mother to Natasha and Florence Pugh’s fellow Black Widow Yelena (and likely the wife of David Harbour’s Red Guardian). Melina’s character is a long-standing enemy of Natasha’s in the comics, where she goes by Iron Maiden, and it would make sense for Marvel to want to keep her identity as Taskmaster secret.
However, trailer footage shows Melina and Taskmaster in the same shot, which throws a spanner in the works for this theory.
OT Fagbenle (The Handmaid’s Tale) is also a big contender. Not much is known about his character, S.H.I.E.L.D agent Rick Mason, other than the fact he is romantically interested in Natasha and has barely appeared in any of the trailers. The actor also may have given away Mason’s real identity after posting about the movie on on social media, and including the cryptic hashtag #TM before swiftly deleting the post.
Other theories suggest Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and even Captain America himself (Chris Evans) could be playing the role, or Natasha’s surrogate “little sister” Yelena (played by Florence Pugh in the movie).
For now, it looks like we’ll have to wait until Black Widow lands in cinemas to find out. Answers on a postcard…
Black Widow will be released in theatres on 1st May.