Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher (2014) Review

Avengers-ConfidentialCreators:

Director Kenichi Shimizu

Writer Mitsutaka Hirota

Players:

Black Widow Jennifer Carpenter

Punisher Brian Bloom

Punisher is tracking down an arms dealer who happens to also be in SHIELD’s cross-hairs. After we see Punisher take down a warehouse full of armed thugs, Black Widow intervenes while Punisher is brutally interrogating the arms dealer. Punisher and Black Widow begin a confrontation full of CQC gunplay, scissor kicks, reversals and any other anime fighting style that may come to mind. This first scene sets the tone and style of this animated movie. Those who follow recent anime by the production company Madhouse will feel comfortably at home. What is impressive is how the gun fights are brutal and violent but never once show blood or gore. Despite it being a Marvel production, the action never feels less intense.

After the initial scene, what follows is more or less a paint by numbers action flick with a whopping amount of terrorist cliche’s ripped from testosterone fueled 80s action movies complete with a screaming guitar solo soundtrack. This isn’t a bad thing. After all, this movie focuses on Marvel’s leather tight femme fatale Black Widow and the take no prisoners Punisher. What should the audience expect? To top it off they are hunting down a techno terrorist organization called Leviathan who have committed, “every known evil deed”. Although this might sound a little cheesy, the action and animation is slick. Remember, this is also aimed at the little kiddies.

In fact, what this movie suffers from is too much character development for Black Widow. They throw a love story into the middle of the big confrontation and it bogs down the pacing and cohesion of the action. For a character named Black Widow, this was a really odd choice for the story. Honestly, if this side story was cut, it would have left the rest of the plot completely intact. Black Widow is voiced by Jennifer “Dexter” Carpenter. Although I loved her portrayal of Debra Morgan and her colorful uses of the F bomb, her voice acting needs some work. It was monotone and lacked much needed inflection. Brian Bloom, on the other hand, did a great job of portraying the gravel and grumble of the Punisher. Once again, this proves that voice actors will always perform better than live actors. It’s a different style of performance and few are able to successfully make the transition.

Overall, this was an entertaining movie that fathers could easily enjoy with their sons. This movie didn’t break any new ground for animated movies, but it did raise the bar for Marvel Animation’s hit or miss quality of direct to video releases. I am very excited to see what they will release next.

Advertisements

Max Fury: My War Gone By (2013)

nickGarth Ennis returns to Nick Fury to deliver one of Marvel’s best Max releases. Ennis delivers a story that focuses on Nick Fury wrestling with his inner demons caused from years as a black op. The story begins in the modern day with an embittered and old Nick Fury confessing his battle scars into an old reel-to-reel recorder. Then, we’re taken to a time shortly after World War 2 where Fury believes everything started to go downhill. Shield is now just a pseudo name for CIA’s covert black ops unit. After World War 2, Fury and the readers discover that war has changed, and it’s now become a bureaucratic way of empowering various powers to be. So, a large portion of the story we see Nick Fury struggling with issues about rebels and the CIA creating unwanted revolutions, or the CIA is using the military to run drug deals in order to finance these hidden wars.

Meanwhile, there is rich character development. Garth Ennis peels back the veil and reveals Frank Castle’s motivation. All these black ops required men like Fury and Castle to shoot selected targets. This dehumanization and devalued regard for human life had blurred the lines that separate home from the war zone. When Castle returned home, all that changed was he got to select who his targets were. It’s how he made sense of the world.
frank

image

We also see Fury have a prolonged affair with a politician’s wife, Shirley DeFabio. Who is a secretary who escaped the mean streets of New York by using and manipulating men in powerful positions. Although their relationship was confined to a bedroom, they needed it so they could still feel something for another human life. However, Nick Fury knows that if he left the war zone to become domesticated he will inevitably follow Frank Castle’s suicide run. There are men who go fight in the war and come back relatively unscathed. Then there are men like Frank Castle, Nick Fury, and Barracuda, whose killer within awakens and their old self never comes back.

Although Garth Ennis has been accused of glorifying excessive violence by Stan Lee himself, it’s how he uses the violence and other mature aspects of the story that define his style. In this story in particular, he uses violence, sex, drugs, alcohol, and so on as red flags of a flawed individual. When Barracuda kicks a dead fetus at Nick Fury, it’s to horrify the readers and show how disconnected and apathetic these soldiers have become. There are graphic depictions of sex but this is the only intimacy we see throughout the whole arc. This is highlighted by when Frank Castle and Nick Fury are on a mission, and we have panels upon panels of complete silence. Garth Ennis also uses real world scenarios such as CIA and Contra forces trafficking coke for the rebels, or the CIA and Contra controversially funding and supporting freedom fighters in various Soviet controlled countries of the world. These real anecdotes pepper the story with more punch and make us question the mentality of a man who had to carry the weight of CIA’s dirty laundry.

Major praise should be given to the artist Goran Parlov for being able to hang in there for Garth Ennis. He managed to not flinch or shy away from the depictions of brutality. Also, Parlov was able to show our characters slowly age from head to toe, from a head of thick hair to thin and grey or from a perky toned body to a sagging and wrinkled sack of flesh. Although his art popped from the pages and was rich with detail, by the end the art made my hands feel dirty.

This is a great series which shows how to do a story for mature readers. It didn’t settle for merely giving the reader mature eye candy. Instead, it brought a lot of heavy political commentary to the table and spoke to the reader like they were adults.