Do you ever get the urge to watch something that you know you’re not going to especially enjoy watching? I get that occasionally, especially when it’s Sunday afternoon and I want to write a blog post but I haven’t banked an idea. The selection for this weekend was Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher, a direct-to-video animated movie starring the two eponymous characters. Netflix suggested that I’d give it about two stars, and I spent most of the movie’s ninety minute runtime figuring out what specific aspects of the movie would lead them to make that prediction.
The purpose of this movie is clearly to offer a sample of Marvel’s flagship property done in a high quality anime style, with all that that entails. The overall effect isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s not particularly memorable either.
The plot is a pretty basic rehash of the good old standard “SHIELD lost some of its weapons technology to terrorists, and now the world is in danger” story. Because our stars for this story are Black Widow and Punisher, we can expect that the feel of the everything will be slightly more grounded than typical superhero fare, with an emphasis on covert operations and lots of flashy hand-to-hand combat (of course, before the movie’s over we get to see both Black Widow and Punisher dodge bullets at close range and perform superhuman leaps in the heat of battle, because rule of cool is in full effect for all action scenes). Emotional beats come from predictable sources (Punisher blames himself for getting brainwashed and killing some marines, and then he decides that this only compounds his angst over his dead family so that he can’t possibly go on… until Black Widow gives him a pep talk and then he’s all better for the rest of the story; Black Widow finds herself confronting an ex-lover whom she thought had died, but who actually stole the weapons tech in the first place and has joined up with the terrorists). The voice actors’ performances are passable, but not outstanding (it took me more than half of the movie to get used to Jennifer Carpenter’s Black Widow, because her affect is almost invariably flat regardless of the action on screen; Brian Bloom as the Punisher was a highlight as he seemed to be channeling the voice of Clancy Brown), and I got the general sense throughout the whole movie that a lot more care was put into the visuals than the voice work (the animators clear cared a lot about putting Black Widow’s body parts in as many shots as they could, even when it really made no sense; this is not surprising for an anime styled movie, but that doesn’t make it less disappointing).
Perhaps next time I get the urge to watch some superhero animation I’ll just go for one of the Avengers or Justice League cartoons on Netflix; they’re all rated significantly higher, and I suspect they’re generally more fun. Give this one a pass unless you just really have an itch to see a few pretty action sequences between a lot of rote storytelling.