Apr 01

Movie March – Avengers Confidential Black Widow and Punisher

Punisher: Now with flame retardant superpowers!

I’m not sure why but Marvel has made another Anime movie. The upcoming Toei Avengers Disk Wars TV series I can understand, that’s trying to move new toys in Japan using the Avengers brand, but I have no idea why they keep trying with the Studio Madhouse Anime’s. The four TV series have been terrible, the previous movie was horrendous, but more keep coming out. This time at least they’re giving Black Widow a title role, she has to share it with the Punisher, but it’s still a title role. So someone over there might be interested in trying products staring someone other than Iron Man or The Hulk. But will this be the Anime that they finally get right? Does it at least get a coherent plot? Why the hell is the Punisher even in this? Let’s find out. Spoilers ahead.

The Punisher is arrested and then recruited by Nick Fury because he blew up a warehouse of illegal weapons SHIELD was tracking to find out where their supplier is. He’s partnered up with Black Widow as they go to recon the supply base in Russia for the new terrorist group, Leviathan. While there he goes off on his own, then the main villain shows up and it’s Widow’s dead ex-boyfriend. He was a SHIELD scientist who felt Widow could never love him since he didn’t have superpowers and she dared prioritise saving the world with the Avengers over him; not hyperbole, by the way, but his actual stated motivations. So in order to get her to love him he faked his death, sold SHIELD tech to terrorists, and became a super powered lunatic who kidnaps and kills innocent civilians. I shouldn’t have to point out logic like that is profoundly stupid and guaranteed to have the opposite effect of true love. But he keeps going on and on about how he’s doing all this to get her to love him, somehow even the kidnapping of people and turning them into brainwashed superhuman biosoldiers with no freewill of their own. They fight, he gets away, a subplot that doesn’t really accomplish much happens, more fighting, Avengers show up, they win in a rather easy manner, the end. And if you can’t tell what happens with Widow’s ex then I’ve got a bridge or two to sell you.

The entire story is made up of cliché after cliché. They just keep on coming; I even started taking a tally of them and wound up with four pages by then end. It just kept building and building till it just became a paint-by-numbers exercise in crappy screenwriting. The story was by Marjorie Liu, a really good comic’s writer and wrote a Black Widow series so she’s familiar with the character, but the teleplay was by Mitsutaka Hirota, who has done teleplays for Prince of Tennis, the Persona 4 Anime, and the X-Men Anime. So it might’ve been a good story with some incredibly poor execution, a dull bland story that wasn’t executed well either, maybe the story points were dictated by the higher ups and everyone tried to do justice to them, maybe executive meddling happened, or just all of the above. Any number of things could’ve happened but in the end the final product was rather bland and boring. With dashes of hilariously bad plotting and clichés coming out of the wood work.

You might notice I haven’t really mentioned the Punisher and that’s because he just doesn’t have a whole lot of story in this, despite being in it a whole lot and seems to be a focus. He just feels shoved into this movie with little need or reason. He doesn’t need to be part the mission in the first place, nor should he be since the mission is to go after the suppliers of the weapons and he repeatedly hates on SHIELD for prioritising that same thing instead of getting the guns off the streets where they are used for killing people. I’m not sure what his motivations are for bargaining his way onto the mission since it’s the opposite of what he says he wants SHIELD to do. But like everything else the Punisher is inconsistent and poorly written.

The Punisher also has superpowers in this. No one ever says anything about it, but the animation clearly shows he has superpowers. At the very beginning he’s in a weapons warehouse that he blows up, directly in the middle of the explosion surrounded by goons. The guy he was chasing nearly dies as he gets out the door, but not the Punisher. He walks out of the flaming building, through a wall of fire, without a single scratch or singe on him. Then whenever he’s in a fight he clearly has superstrenght and superspeed. He even fights toe-to-toe with the Avengers against an army of biosoldiers, not exactly the street level “if any superhero crosses his path he’s pretty much done for” version of the character. Then again the biosoldiers are really pathetic, so no one needed the Avengers to show up to stop them. These are meant to be super weapons designed to go up against superheroes, yet they are taken down with regular old bullets from the Punisher. When they’re in battle armour too. All it does is make the character look cooler at the expense of everyone else being exactly the same as him. If the villains are supersoldiers then they shouldn’t have the same fighting prowess of a regular human. That’s the real problem here, not that they made the Punisher into a superhuman. It is Anime after all.

To add to the cliché pile the Punisher also gets a subplot where he’s brainwashed into killing some SHIELD agents. Then he gets all angsty about it till Widow convinces him to start killing people again. I’d be less dismissive of it if not for two things, the subplot is dropped without any character growth from the Punisher, and it’s the most suggested Punisher story ever made. An editor once said he had a draw full of “the definitive Punisher story” all ranging from amateur writers to the best of the best, and they were all the same story of the Punisher dealing with killing an innocent. It’s just thrown in here, doesn’t really fit with what counts as the movie theme, and adds nothing to the story since there wasn’t any resolution to it. It gets all of two scenes and then he just gets over it.

Along with thrown in story points there are thrown in characters. Most notably Amadeus Cho, the new Carol Danvers Captain Marvel, the rest of the Avengers, and the main villain in charge of the terrorist group. Yes the main villain only shows up at the end, in one scene, for a boss fight and random bits of exposition that only provide contradicting character motivation because it, again, is counter to what we actually see him doing. Selling an army of kidnapped and brainwashed supersoldiers to the highest bidder of supervillain or dictator is the opposite of “bringing power to the people.” But that’s what happens when you’ve got one scene for the main villain and must try to characterise him as something more than a cardboard cut-out.

Amadeus Cho on the other hand brings us back to cliché well. In the comics he’s supposed to be a supergenius teenager and one of the smartest of the Marvel Universe, right next to Reed Richards and Tony Stark. Here he’s essentially SHIELD’s Q, a tech geek who does tech stuff to solve the plot. He’s presented as a stereotypical nerd, who Widow says girls will never talk to if he keeps speaking science stuff at them. She also gets him to work harder by promising him a kiss. The only thing missing was a noise bleed from him accidentally seeing a panty shot. We also get a quick shot of a “Heroes Reborn” comic on his desk, just to remind us there are even worse stories out there I guess.

The animation is serviceable. It’s not glaringly bad and does its job, but there’s also not much to stand out here either. The action is rather bland and not that interesting to watch. Funnily enough there’s at least two fights that end with the opponents punching each other in the fist and then holding like that for them to talk some more. It’s a laughable moment just for all the Bro Fist jokes you can make out of it. The designs are all okay for the main cast, but when the Avengers show up they all look odd, except for Iron Man and War Machine. I can’t put my finger on what it was, but I think designing them was put on a rather weak B Team so they look out of place next too the well done main cast.

The voice work on the other hand was dire. The English cast were all good to great actors, they even got Jennifer Carpenter from Dexter to be Black Widow, but they all sounded flat and bored. I think the voice director was to blame for this, as a bad director can murder even the best of actor’s. So it made a bad movie even worse. Definitely avoid the dub if you can.

Overall I’d just say avoid this movie all together. It is by far the best of the Marvel Anime line, but being the best of a pile of crap still doesn’t change the fact that it’s crap. The plot jumps around all over the place with a subplot about brainwashing that should’ve been cut out, and then just adds clichés instead of a decent narrative or characters. The antagonist is poorly motivated, badly conceived, and by the end no one cared about what happened to him. The Punisher definitely felt like the odd duck in this, the plot flimsily justifies his inclusion in this, makes him superhuman for no reason which makes all the other superhuman feats look rather run of the mill when they get shown off, and at the end he could’ve just been cut out of the story and replaced him with elements of a much better movie.

How does this improve on the other Marvel Animes? Well its fixed the pacing problems, the plotting is still a work in progress but getting less stupid; but there’s still too much telling rather than showing, characters are just forced in so they can be put on the cover in the hope that the fans will buy it, and the villains motivations still aren’t nailed down and vary depends on which line of dialogue you listen to. I hope this is the last of the Madhouse Marvel Animes because they’ve all been a waste of time.

Sadly not an April Fools joke review.