Close but No Cigar
After interfering with a SHIELD operation, one too many times, Frank Castle, the vigilante known as The Punisher is captured by SHIELD. Fury however dosen’t want to send him to prison, he’s to useful to be locked away. Instead he pairs him with the Black Widow Natalia Romanova to investigate the shadowy organization Leviathan.
I have not enjoyed the majority of Marvel and Madhouse studios collaborations. This isn’t an aesthetic distaste, while I find some of the “fan service” moments to be awkward there is a consistency of style that is appreciated. I enjoy the works of directors such as Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshii Kon, Mamoru Oshii, and Hideaki Anno.
The biggest hurdle for these ventures both feature and serial has been in the writing. With Captain America: The Winter Soldier soon due in theaters, there has been renewed prognostication of just what it is Marvel Studios dose right for the masses and critics so consistently. The best of Marvel cinema (Captain America: TFA, The Avengers) has let its characters drive the plot and inform genre instead of the other way around. This is not the case for features such as Iron Man: Rise of Technovore . Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher manages to find a decent if underdeveloped halfway point between these two dramatic theories. As such it approaches something of quality and may be the best anime property this partnership has brought to the market. This step in the right direction doesn’t stop it from feeling hollow as it gets through a spectacle laden third act on a Black Widow wink and smile. Shirking any attempt to explore or evolve the morality of its titular characters.
This feature with story credit by Marjorie Liu and screenplay credit by Mitsutaka Hirota, tries to be an odd couple espionage story, the latter of which works rather nicely due to generic necessity. Beyond these espionage tropes, there isn’t really much to the relationship between Punisher and Widow. They have their differing moral codes. Punisher with his binary morality of all crime is punishable by death circumstances be damned. Widow has her belief in a higher authority and service to that. The feature tries to explore and perhaps evolve Punisher’s morality with trite moments of melodrama that do not work and in the end function more on plot necessity to move things to Madripoor instead of actually build pathos with the cold blooded killer.
The third act involving Mandripoor really undoes any of the half steps towards quality this feature takes. Having infiltrated the base, Punisher is tasked with NOT killing the controlled drones who are being auctioned off to the highest bidder. And then the Hulk comes in and smashes…everything. This kind of tone deaf handling of tone and rules isn’t new to Marvel Anime but it continues to be a key pillar of these products failing. Worst yet, the titular characters are lost in the shuffle one the Avengers show up. Which as spectacle isn’t bad, it’s really cool to see The Avengers square off against Graviton, Grim Reaper, Griffin, and an innumerable amount of drones. This is hollow spectacle that belongs in a different film.
The non-stop action pacing in which every scene is ended with a fight just about makes none of the action feel special. There are several sequences that are rather nicely done but in totality they like the characters are lost in a sea of mindless action for the sake of action and means of transition to the next plot point.
Frank Castle, The Punisher, is a character that translates to animation easily and spectacularly. The limitless potential of the medium allows Castle to be both an insane gun toting weapon of vengeance and boogeyman slasher all in the same sequence. An early sequence in a warehouse makes it quite evident as Punisher rips through goons with a brutality that wouldn’t fly in PG-13 live action features, don’t worry Punisher doesn’t make anyone too “wet”. The Punisher hits with an audiovisual thud, giving him the appearance of power equivalent to a metahuman. The Punisher’s brute force is contrasted nicely with the acrobatic dynamism of Black Widow. Always jumping insane heights with flash kicks or jumping off a wall to kick someone in the face. She provides a fun stylistic difference in how action is orientated.
Avengers Confidential at times resembles what is expected of “good” narrative structure. But almost only counts in grenades and just left me more annoyed that it nearly had it. Confidential forgoes character development for recycled fight sequences and spectacle. The problem continues to be the writing, true for most poor films. It isn’t the run time at 83 minutes it’s a bit longer than most DC animated features who manage to properly capitalize on the restraints and tell an actual story.