(Warning!! This review contains spoilers! Proceed at your own risk!!)
When that Marvel anime movie, Iron Man: The Rise Of Technovore, came out last April I had a hunch but wasn’t certain. In a couple of weeks they are about to release their second and now I’m confident Marvel is back in the animated movie business, one that started back in 2006 with Ultimate Avengers and ended in 2011 with Thor: Tales Of Asgard, and now begins again except this time they are anime-styled movies.
I have no problem with that since I’m a fan of anime.
I guess we can thank DC and their Batman: Gotham Knight (2008) anime movie for this. I have noticed when either one of these comic publishing giants ventures into new territory the other one counters it. And Marvel countered big time by doing one better by taking four of their properties (Iron Man, X-Men, Wolverine, Blade) and issuing a 12-part anime series for each. The result was pretty damn good in my opinion.
I personally think that style accentuates Marvel and DC heroes/villains perfectly.
The cover of Avengers Confidential is deceptive. It alludes to the fact that all the Avengers are in it. It’s the actual title that should tip you off to whom the movie really focuses on. The other Avengers do appear, but only in the final act with Thor, Ms Marvel and Hulk getting all anime’d-up for the first time, and they all looked great.
I heard recently there were rumors Marvel was thinking of doing a solo Black Widow movie, after seeing this one I wondered if this was a dry run to see if she’s marketable as a headlining character. Widow gets the A plot while Punisher gets the B plot, but as the movie starts off they’re pretty much equal. In fact the movie starts off with Castle doing what Castle does best, punishing the guilty. His way. And his way involves bullets to the head, slit throats and, well, a shit ton of death.
Problem is all those men he just killed in that warehouse were being monitored by S.H.I.E.L.D. Widow shows up, tangles with Castle for a bit before Fury makes an appearance and hauls Castle’s ass into custody. Story goes like this, S.H.I.E.L.D weaponry has been stolen and is now in the hands of a terrorist organization called, Leviathan, and Fury wants to know where the location of their base is. Something he believes Castle knows because just before S.H.I.E.L.D showed up he was “interrogating” one of Leviathan’s higher-ups who was at the warehouse and thinks he was told.
Of course, Castle knows, but he wants to do things his way. He’ll give the location to Fury if he can go in and “clean the place up.” Fury sends Widow along, but their mission is recon only, no killing, no revenge.
At this base located in some third world country covered in snow, Widow’s A plot kicks in. She comes face to face with the person who gave Leviathan all that S.H.I.E.L.D. tech, and it’s a scientist she had fallen in love with. S.H.I.E.L.D needs to vet their “employees” a hell of a lot better, especially in the psyche department. Long story short, he didn’t think he was up to snuff. Inferiority complex, I theorize. At any rate, he created a serum that beefed up his strength and he did a lot more inventing for Leviathan afterwards. Think bio-soldiers and a mind control device that looks like a cell phone. One flash and you’re turned into a “Manchurian Candidate.”
Cue Castle’s B plot.
Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., as Castle and Widow are conversing with teen S.H.I.E.L.D. super-scientist, Amadeus Cho, the phone flashes again and BAM! Castle is a red-eyed automaton who ends up killing a group of their soldiers who try and stop him. In PG-13 movies it’s all right to show people being murdered as long as you don’t show any blood. After Castle kills the soldiers we see them on the ground, a couple of them in pools of blood, indicating these particular deaths mattered. They were the good guys, killed by “friendly fire” no less. Castle is shoved in a cell and charged with murder.
You know damn well he ain’t gonna stay in that stinkin’ cell for the rest of the movie. Widow’s warming up to him now and their contentious partnership thaws just enough for her to get him out and take him along to a crucial meeting in Hong Kong that will eventually get them to Madripoor and to an auction where Leviathan is planning on selling their bio-soldiers to the highest bidders (aka other Marvel villains)
The last time Madripoor figured into a Marvel animated movie plot was in the 12-part series, Wolverine. The whole second half takes place on that insane crime infested island.
All Castle wants is revenge upon the people who turned him into a murderer and all Widow wants is to stop her former boyfriend from fucking the world up even more than it already is. Plots A and B are nicely tied up in two, separate final confrontations with Castle unexpectedly administering the deathblow to his via a big ass knife. Actually, Castle’s story line as two endings. That one and another one right before the end credits that kind of mirrors the one on Blade II (2002), except here it doesn’t involve a sword. Just a gun and a BANG!
Start with Punisher and end with Punisher.
Perfect ending in my book.
This movie is connected to last year’s Iron Man: The Rise Of Technovore through a casual one-liner Castle throws at Stark when he and the rest of the Avengers crash the auction at the end. He turns, shoots Stark, obviously knowing his bullet will bounce off his armor, and says, “That’s for Karachi.” There’s a scene between Stark and Castle in that movie that goes sour when Widow and Hawkeye show up and I’m pretty sure they were in Karachi.
This movie was smaller and more contained than Technovore. Widow and Punisher are anti-heroes who don’t have super powers so there are no massive scenes of destruction and landscape upheaval you’d get if they had. It’s more of an espionage tale, with toned down levels of destruction. Only when Hulk does his thing at the end do things get real super-hero funky, but he doesn’t get anywhere as destructive as he got in that two-parter of The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (2010-2013) in Season One (The Breakout, Part 2) that saw him taking on Graviton and leveling blocks of New York City.
I thought the Punisher depicted in this movie was even better than the one in Technovore. He seems a lot bigger and he doesn’t have that damn black, trench coat he had in Technovore. I’m not a big fan of heroes and villains donning trenches as part of their costumes. To date, I’d say these two movies are the best-animated representations of The Punisher. Even with a PG-13, a hard PG-13 I might add, he was still able to “punish” the bad guys six ways to Sunday.
Voice work for Castle in both films was perfect. In Technovore he was voiced by Norman Reedus, in Confidential Brian Bloom did it. Bloom also voiced Captain America in The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes cartoon series incidentally.
Returning voices from Technovore are Matthew Mercer (Tony Stark) and John Eric Bentley (Nick Fury). Kari Wahlgren (Maria Hill) is in both films as well, but I have no memory of either scenes. Good ol’ Fred Tatasciore (pronounced Tata-shore) got recruited yet again to voice Hulk. He’s up there with Steve Blum (Wolverine) and Kevin Conroy (Batman) as voice actors who are perfectly matched with the heroes they voice. So much so it’s hard to picture anyone else doing them, and a disappointing when someone else does.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment releases Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher on March 25th in two forms—a DVD/Blu-ray/Digital Copy combo and a DVD/Digital Copy one. This review covers the blu-ray and the specs for it are:
Video: 1080p 1.78:1 anamorphic high definition
Audio: English and Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD MA
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
In a nutshell, picture and audio were perfect.
For extras you get The Vigilante Vs. The Spy (9:11) and Espionage And Punishment (10:16). The former covers the psyche and history of the Widow and Punisher and the latter kind of does the same but with the added bonus of seeing the Japanese filmmakers talk about how the animated them. Both of these features can also be found on the DVD. Exclusive to the blu-ray is a Conceptual Art Gallery where you can peruse 148 photos in various forms, from black and white drawn to color completed.
I have to admit even though DC still has the upper hand in the animated movie business, I still love the anime series and movies Marvel has done and is doing. Since the sequel to The Avengers (2012) is set to be released next I’m going to take an educated guess and say their third anime movie will again focus on a pair of Avengers. Here’s one I’d love to see: Avengers Confidential: Hulk & Hawkeye. I really dug anime Hulk and want to see more of him.