I just avenged my pants. Wait, what does that even mean?
The partnership between Marvel and anime studio Madhouse keeps chugging along, with anime versions of Marvel characters being released direct to video alongside the big-budget theatrical flicks. With the Black Widow character prominently featured in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, she gets her own starring role in Avengers Confidential: Black Widow/Punisher.
Black Widow (Jennifer Carpenter, Dexter) and psycho vigilante the Punisher (Brian Bloom, Batman: The Brave and the Bold) are both on the trail of an arms dealer. Punisher wants the guy dead, but Black Widow knows this could be the key to uncovering a secret criminal organization called Leviathan. It takes some convincing, but S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (John Eric Bentley, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) agrees to let the Punisher go after the bad guys, but only if Black Widow joins him, to keep him under control. Now, Black Widow and Punisher are reluctant allies as they unravel Leviathan’s sinister plot.
For those who’ve been hoping for a Black Widow solo movie, here you go. It’s not going to replace The Avengers in anyone’s mind, but those who liked the big-screen version can jump right into this one without having to read tons of comics beforehand. It’s mostly the “movie version” of Black Widow. She’s a superspy with a mysterious past. With that foreknowledge, viewers can dive right on in with the punching and kicking and not have to worry about continuity or such. It’s a version of the character that’s simplified without being dumbed down. A big part of the plot has to do with Black Widow reconnecting and then being betrayed by someone from her past. It doesn’t quite work because we’ve never seen this person before, but it reinforces how Widow has changed, and how she’s haunted by her dark past.
Here’s the thing about the Punisher: he’s a one-note character and always will be. Every Punisher story succeeds or fails based on what characters Punny runs into on his adventures. Here, he’s surrounded by the S.H.I.E.L.D. crew, whose heroic speeches about the greater good bounce right off the Punisher. Without powers or high-tech gadgets, the Punisher is left with his singular drive to wipe out the bad guy. He’s a killer and he’s OK with that, showing no remorse or apologies for what he does. Contrast this with Black Widow, who has done awful things in the past and now hopes to make up for them. Even though most of the movie is these two fighting henchmen, their philosophical differences add just enough character work to keep things interesting.
The action scenes really excel with the martial arts fighting. Black Widow is given a sense of real speed and athleticism, and, being anime, it features several slow-mo shots of her leaping through the air. The Punisher is given a few nice fighting moves as well, in addition to his usual shoot-everything manner. With the Avengers name in the title, you’ll be glad to know that Earth’s mightiest heroes do show up at the end, including your favorites from the movie—and a few others more familiar to comic book obsessives. Some might wonder why the Avengers are barely in this Avengers movie, but I’m perfectly happy to have Black Widow front and center. Also worth noting is that D-list Marvel hero Amadeus Cho (Eric Bauza, Ben 10 Omniverse) makes his first appearance in media other than comics. As a wacky teen genius, he provides both exposition and comic relief.
One downside to the animation is that the backgrounds all look alike. No matter where the characters are, it’s all a variation on the “high-tech base” thing. When the characters talked about travelling to Madripoor, I got all excited, because this is a well-known setting from the comics, but it ended up being just another high-tech base. Not having a real sense of where the characters are makes the action feel generic after a time. Putting these great characters into distinctive environments would have made the movie a far richer experience.
Avengers Confidential: Black Widow/Punisher (Blu-ray) offers up a stellar presentation, as expected from a recently made ‘toon. Colors pop and the animation is smooth and fluid on this 1.78:1/1080p HD transfer. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is decent, but not quite as booming or immersive as one might expect during the big action. In terms of bonus material, there are two featurettes: one in which the creators discuss their fondness for Black Widow and Punisher; the other is more of that with some behind-the-scenes info as well. There’s also a conceptual art gallery, a DVD copy, and a digital download.
A nice side dish to the Marvel main course, Avengers Confidential: Black Widow/Punisher is a fun and breezy jaunt through the Marvel universe, especially for those who want more Black Widow action.