If you go into Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher thinking that it’s going to have anything to do with the Avengers, then you’re going to be let down. Despite the commercial playing up Iron Man and Thor, those guys are barely in it at all. In fact, outside of Black Widow, the only Avengers to really say anything are Iron Man, Hawkeye, and Hulk. And Hulk is just growling really loudly, so that barely even counts!
Avengers Confidential takes place in the Marvel Anime universe, more notably as a follow-up to Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore. It’s put together by animation studio Mad House and written by comic scribe Marjorie Liu. The story deals with SHIELD taking Frank Castle (Brian Bloom) into custody for mucking up one of their operations by getting involved and killing nearly every bad guy in the vicinity. He and Natasha Romanoff (Jennifer Carpenter) are reluctantly partnered together to go after Leviathan, a major terrorist sect, who according to Widow, is involved in everything bad ever.
The two discover Leviathan’s plan to create an army of brainwashed super soldiers using superhero blood. One of the main players in this plot is a former SHIELD scientist named Elihas Starr (Grant George), who was once the love of Black Widow’s life. In fact, he faked his own death and joined Leviathan for the sake of turning himself into a super soldier so he could consider himself “worthy” of Widow’s love. The fact that he was just a lowly scientist and Natasha was part of a whole superhero lifestyle drove him mad even if she already loved him. You can probably figure out his entire storyline in this movie just from this starting point.
The best thing Avengers Confidential has going for it is the action. The opening few minutes (outside of the bizarre newspaper headline that says, “PUNISHER: HERO OR MURDER?”) features a scene of Castle singlehandedly killing a couple dozen criminals and it’s so good that you’re kind of sad that the rest of the movie won’t be exactly this. There are plenty of action sequences throughout the story and they all look fantastic. Though it’s very much like watching somebody play Tekken at times because while Black Widow will get the absolute crap kicked out of her, she’ll get up just fine with no markings, no injuries, no blood, and no damage to her outfit.
There’s also some questionable stuff in the fights. Frank and Natasha will occasionally air out their grievances by fighting to the death, including Frank trying to shoot her in the face at point blank range several times. They also do a silly bit where they punch each other’s fists at the same time and try to push forward as if that would do anything. Oh, and Frank apparently has super speed the way he dashes forward at multiple points. Regardless, it’s all pretty cool and super violent at times without showing much in terms of blood.
You’re going to need those action scenes to get by because otherwise you’ll be bored to tears during the first half. It’s the problem with the concept. Frank Castle is cold and speaks in a monotone. Black Widow lacks emotion until the Elihas plot starts to really develop late in the story. Nick Fury (John Eric Bentley) is your average movie “badge on my desk” police chief, only he’s in desperate need of a cup of coffee. When everybody talks and gives us info dumps on the plot, it will put you to sleep because there’s absolutely no energy to be found. It’s a huge contrast to when Amadeus Cho (Eric Bauza) – one of the most likeable Marvel characters introduced in the last decade – shows up and annoys you with his over-the-top personality and constant yammering about how he wants to kiss Natasha.
Iron Man (Matthew Mercer) doesn’t appear until well after the hour point, but he’s a complete breath of fresh air because he appears to have a pulse.
Brian Bloom as the Punisher is pretty spot-on, going as distant as you’d expect from the character. Carpenter’s Black Widow is problematic. She shows no hint of being Russian, which I suppose is fine because the most famous depiction of the character got away with it, but it still irks me when they specifically bring up her Russian past yet there’s not a hint of an accent. Mainly because it would have given her something. She has no personality and any time she tries to act upbeat, it feels completely forced. This is made worse when by design, she’s supposed to be playing off a stone cold murderer.
There isn’t even much of a dynamic, now that I think of it. At least, not enough for two stars of a movie. They argue in the beginning about Frank’s “take no prisoners” approach against SHIELD’s “gather intel from the smaller fish and then use it against the bigger fish” approach, but nothing much comes from that. Then it’s all about whether or not mind-controlled people should be considered guilty for their crimes and that’s neither delved into deeply enough, nor all that enticing.
I’d say that if you’re going to check out Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher, do it because you want to watch a bunch of well-animated fight scenes or you want to see a strong animated depiction of Frank Castle that’s allowed to stab people in the face. Otherwise, fast-forward through the dialogue and you should be good.