Avengers Confidential: Black Widow and Punisher Review
While a lot of people were disappointed with the CGI direction and undercooked story of Marvel’s recent Iron Man and Hulk: Heroes United, Avengers Confidential: Black Widow and Punisher more than makes up for that film’s shortcomings. Featuring sleek anime-style animation, solid voice acting and a lot of action, this production from Japanese studio Madhouse is on par with most of the recent DC Animated releases, which is probably the highest compliment you could pay it. The film is a great character study for two of Marvel’s darker heroes — if you could call them that — and makes you wonder why we haven’t seen them paired together more often.
Directed by Kenichi Shimizu, Avengers Confidential: Black Widow and Punisher finds Frank Castle (Brian Bloom) in S.H.E.I.L.D. custody after trying to take down a high-profile target. The target, a man named Cain, is linked to a terrorist organization named Leviathan that is selling superhuman weapons to the highest bidder. Castle offers his services to track down Leviathan and deal with the matter personally, and subsequently is teamed with Black Widow (Jennifer Carpenter) at the behest of Nick Fury. While the Punisher isn’t exactly happy about having a sidekick, it soon becomes obvious that they make a hell of a team.
While Avengers Confidential: Black Widow and Punisher manages to pull off a PG-13 rating, there’s plenty of trademark Punisher violence to go around. Through the use of clever camera angles and editing Frank Castle pulls off some brutally lethal maneuvers, beginning with slicing a man’s throat in the film’s very first shot. He even tries to put a bullet right between Black Widow’s eyes the first time they meet. I’m glad that Marvel didn’t shy away from the bloodshed, as it’s integral to the character of Frank Castle and without it the movie would feel neutered.
The voice acting in Avengers Confidential: Black Widow and Punisher is generally quite decent, but a good amount of Jennifer Carpenter’s lines as Black Widow feel a bit off. Brian Bloom is fantastic as The Punisher though, capturing the character’s animalistic, ruthlessly violent nature with ease. Grant George lends his voice to the film’s initial antagonist (and former lover of Black Widow) Elihas Starr, and I found his performance to be a bit grating, but to be fair he isn’t given the best dialogue to work with. His romantic arc with Natasha Romanoff doesn’t feel very believable, and his motivation for becoming a villain in the first place is extremely lame. Also, the word “love” is uttered way too many times for a film starring The Punisher.
While The Punisher is as aggressive and battle-hardened as ever in Avengers Confidential: Black Widow and Punisher, Frank Castle gets a decent amount of characterization. He compares “Semper Fi” tattoos with a fellow marine SHIELD agent, and recalls life with his family before they were brutally murdered. He’s filled with remorse after accidentally causing the deaths of some SHIELD agents, allowing himself to be taken into custody before Black Widow convinces him to finish the job and take down Leviathan. The addition of Amadeus Cho and his dog adds a bit of humor to the proceedings, as Amadeus essentially saves the mission and, in part, the world all to get a kiss from Black Widow. And the poor bastard never does.
While there’s a plot device in place to stop the full Avengers team from showing up until the very end, their short-lived party crashing feels shoehorned in. Only Iron Man and Hawkeye speak, and while it’s cool to see Captain Marvel and Hulk beating down bad guys, their inclusion feels thrown together at the last minute just to make use of the license. The timing is especially strange, as Black Widow scolds the Punisher for killing the brainwashed super soldiers, moments before Hulk smashes the life out of the poor souls and Iron Man repulsor-beam fries their carcasses. Still, it is cool to see them all kicking ass together — I just wish it was written in better.
Overall, Avengers Confidential: Black Widow and Punisher is a fun anime film offering some kick-ass action sequences, a great visual style and a bit of characterization for the two antiheroes. While the romance plot feels clumsy and some of the vocal performances aren’t as tight as they could be, fans of Punisher and Black Widow will get their money’s worth. There’s a handful of decent special features on the disc offering some insight into the film’s production, from interviews to concept art and more.