The Marvel Animated movies have picked up a reputation as a mixed bunch. For every Planet Hulk (great), there’s an Iron Man: Rise of Technovore (not-so-great). Black Widow and The Punisher may sound like an unusual pairing – low-key super-spy meets high-profile vigilante – but odd couples have worked before in the MCU. The tension between Chris Evans‘ Cap’n and RDJ‘s Iron Man was arguably one of the highlights of The Avengers and, even with that billion-dollar team-up behind us, there are still plenty of permutations left to try out. So how does Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher fare?
The storyboarded origins of both characters make for some dynamic titles, even if the clearly manga-inspired artwork is far from the series’ most groundbreaking. An opening sequence in which Frank Castle AKA The Punisher dispatches Yakuza thugs at a dockyard recalls Batman Begins and features some surprisingly brutal violence. Castle (Brian Bloom) – however well-intentioned – is a vicious thug, an unequivocal murderer not above torture or execution.
Given the more humanitarian face S.H.I.E.L.D. tends to put on their operations, this provides plenty of opportunities for an ideological face-off between him Natasha Romanoff. Unfortunately, Black Widow & Punisher is more interested in the punches being thrown than in the motivation behind them and its ill treatment of one of its title characters borders on the stunning.
As one of the relatively few female heroes available on The Avengers lineup, you’d hope director Kenichi Shimizu (Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island) and his team of writers could find something to do with Black Widow. Unfortunately, regardless of your opinion of Joss Whedon‘s take on the character – an implied romantic subplot is about all Scarlett Johansson got to work with in The Avengers – Black Widow & Punisher is seemingly even less interested in her.
While Castle gets to contend, in part, with the extreme moral ambiguity of what he does, courtesy of an impromptu brainwash-prompted massacre, Romanoff – SPOILER! – gets to be in love with the number two baddie, Elihas Starr, a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent turned traitor. Starr, best known as the alter-ego of pointy-domed villain Egghead, is reinvented as a soft-spoken scientist who faked his death and joined up with terrorist agency Leviathan because he didn’t think he was good enough for his girlfriend.
While Castle glares from the shadow, pale, dark-eyed, and monstrous, Romanoff here manages to make her real-life counterpart seem under-sexualized: she’s all curves, flirtatious smiles and knowing winks. Black Widow & Punisher displays so many of the complaints associated with stereotypical Japanese anime. There’s even a slovenly young computer genius, Amazing Fantasy‘s Amadeus, who has a pet dog and is motivated purely by the prospect of a kiss from Black Widow. At one point, he even rides one of the Avengers round like a horse (no points for guessing which.)
Meanwhile, a Samuel L. Jackson-styled Nick Fury is portrayed as a manipulative asshole who more or less states outright that he considers Romanoff part of his B-team. The basic story is that S.H.I.E.L.D. has f***ed-up, prompting a team-up between Punisher and Black Widow, some rather bland globe-trotting, then the rest of the Avengers turn up at the end and win the battle through sheer force.
Overall, Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher feels, at best, underwhelming. Everything from the plot to the voice acting is unremarkable. When there are so many classic Marvel stories yet to show on-screen, so many great plot-lines that will never make an appearance in the live-action movies, you have to wonder, “Why this story? Why now?” There’s no clear answer for that. Perhaps most worryingly, the film even manages to validate The Punisher’s murderous ways over S.H.I.E.L.D.’s law-and-order approach. When your story has the audience siding with a fascist, it might be worth reconsidering your approach.
Have you seen Black Widow & Punisher? If so, what did you think? Was our reviewer too harsh or were you too put-off by its treatment of Natasha Romanoff? Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Twitter!