Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher (2014)
It's beauty AND the beast.
Marvel likes making some anime-flavored flicks lately, but I'm not complaining. What character is cool that we don't ever hear anybody shout about not being in an Avengers movie? The Punisher. Who could we team up with the Punisher and have one not seem entirely outclassed? How about Black Widow? Tag team action in an animated form, with a little guest appearance of some the big-wig Avengers themselves! Is it a beautiful elegant thing to steal your breath away, or is it a vengeful executioner whose only plans are to stop you from breathing? Read on and and I'll tell you what I think!
Frank Castle doesn't like criminals for a reason: they killed his family. Where a normal man would probably do some moping and wish ill things upon the culprits, Castle turns into the vigilante equivalent of Judge Dredd, dealing out executioner justice to those who hurt the innocent. In his current crusade, he's chasing down leads on a recent rash of criminals who have some very high-tech weaponry they shouldn't have - and we get to watch his newest "sting" in all it's animated glory. Unfortunately for Frank, he's not the only one keyed in to the operation.
SHIELD is almost 100 percent positive that these new high tech weapons criminals are using is based on some of their tech. They send in ace spy Black Widow to stake the place out and get clues on who their dealer is - which is when Frank shows up and starts doling out the punishing. This leads to a bit of a "discussion" between the two over whose interrupting whose operation, and results in a rather cranky Punisher and an escaped dirtbag with all the info. The setup is then given to us straight - revealing about SHIELD's possible stolen goods, and trying to get Frank to spill all the beans. After some wheeling and dealing, it's determined that Frank and Natasha (Widow) are gonna have to get along and be partners for the duration of the oncoming mission.
That mission? Go to the location Frank beat from his lead, and figure out how terrorist group Leviathan got ahold of it's apparent SHIELD tech. Bonus points may be rewarded for finding out any master plans. The rest of the movie is, in a nutshell, essentially this with the interaction and interplay between Castles gun-ho murder the crooks attitude and Widow's more end-game driven way of operating. Will they stop leviathan and find out the plans? Will the Avengers that are clearly shown on the cover show up at some point in the movie? Isn't Kirby the pet just a cute little bugger?
Let's get started with animation quality shall we? Its pretty smooth, well lined, and sometimes colorful. I state sometimes, because a lot of the flick is somewhat darker in lighting, leading to a lot of darker tones instead of your lush forest green. Lasers, electricity, gunshots, and even in smaller instances some blood all come off as cleanly done, with barely if any jerkiness or jankiness. That being said, some people don't like the anime style - that doesn't make the animation crap (you bunch of animation racists), it just means the styling of (specifically) the characters may not be to everyone's liking.
Audio is well handled, but there is one particular thing I need to call out about it. Black Widow, for whatever reason, always sounds as though something is off when she's talking - I don't know if it's some kind of reverb, or the voice actress had a crappier mic to record on, but it's the only character whom I noticed it on and it runs the duration of the movie (of which she has a lot of lines). Beyond that, music serves a standard background role (although the opening intro to Punisher's handiwork had a nice groove to it), but effect work sounds quite wonderful (such as Widow's taser gear or gunshots). The actors do a decent feel of getting into the lines, and for the most part it's a generally pleasant thing.
Plot here is kind of generic as far as a one-off comic style movie. Start low, build up to something that could be world-threatening, and then wrap it up. The biggest wrench to this is the use of the normal human heroes, so the general scale of on-screen things is a little less super and more manageable. Although Punisher is in the movie, it also feels that it's more of a sidekick role to Widow, who even gets her own (rather terrible) romance plot. As far as the characterization goes, I can't honestly say I've read enough of the comics to know super meaty portions to contribute, but if any complaints are to be leveled at them for not being true to being, I could only really see them pointed towards Widow (who seems a lot less self-sustained emotionally than what I've seen of her thus far). Punisher, on the other hand, is the shoot the scum first kind of guy I've always recalled of him, while still containing the ability to realize a moral dilemma of the self when it comes up.
If you're a fan of animated comic movies, it's certainly not terrible, but like the anime-style Ironman flick mileage will vary. Quality wise things aren't bad, but some may be turned off by the characters presentation (others might be thrilled, who knows?) and that's going to be a largely personal thing that I can't tell you flat out about. As far as me personally, I thought it was entertaining enough, and love seeing Punisher in something (for a character that's so easy to get right, I can't understand how he always has such a poor box office reception). The audio issue with Widow's lines had me a bit annoyed at times, but it was easy enough for me to ignore it and still enjoy what was presented. Is it as cool as Batman threatening to blow up an entire planet? I don't think I'd go that far, but it's also nice to see things new tried when it comes to animation - particularly comic related ones.