Caught interfering with a top secret mission, gun-toting vigilante Frank Castle (voiced by Brian Bloom) a.k.a. the Punisher reluctantly teams with S.H.I.E.L.D agent Natasha Romanoff (Jennifer Carpenter) a.k.a. Black Widow. On the orders of director Nick Fury (John Eric Bentley) the pair set out to prevent a a global terrorist organisation called LEVIATHAN from selling stolen S.H.I.E.L.D technology to the highest bidder. Initially at each other's throats, Punisher and Black Widow learn to set aside their differences with the fate of the world at stake.
Marvel Studios made their bid for the animation market hitherto dominated by rivals DC/Warner Brothers with four TV shows and two direct-to-video features animated by Madhouse, the acclaimed Japanese studio behind among others Wicked City (1987) and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2001). Of which Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher is the second following Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore (2013). Surprisingly for a supposed Avengers outing the film spotlights non-team member though fan-favourite the Punisher in a team-up with comparatively under-exposed stalwart Black Widow. Voiced effectively by veteran actor Brian Bloom, this actually marks the character's first appearance within the official Marvel universe predating Jon Bernthal's definitive incarnation on Marvel's Netflix show by two years.
Appropriately the film serves the grim nature of the Punisher with a neo-noirish tone reminiscent of early anime by Madhouse's celebrated chief auteur Yoshiyuki Kawajiri. It delivers an authentically brutal though not overly graphic depiction of Frank Castle's uncompromising vigilante methods liable to satisfy fans if unlikely to convert those comic book readers who never quite warmed to the grim character. By comparison Madhouse's oddly smirking, anemic redesign of Black Widow proves less engaging than her charismatic live-action avatar Scarlett Johansson despite solid voice-acting from Dexter star Jennifer Carpenter.
Upholding Marvel's weird compunction for constantly pitting their heroes against each other Avengers Confidential wastes no time in having the titular mismatched allies trade blows repeatedly throughout the plot. Frank Castle is such a rigid, unrelenting sourpuss unwilling to work with others his presence dilutes the inherently fun nature of S.H.I.E.L.D's spy-jinks. He functions better as a street-level character though it is worth noting his driven, brooding demeanour may well appeal to a Japanese audience as akin to a gekiga antihero. Nonetheless the script exhibits a solid grasp of the characters despite a tendency towards heavy exposition between punch-ups and a plot largely built around cool action sequences. The latter are visually inventive as indeed is the storytelling in spite of threadbare plotting, as one would expect from a Madhouse production. On the downside the emotional center of the story, centred on Black Widow's relationship with cyber-suited turncoat lover Elihas Starr (Grant George) flounders through melodramatic overstatement and weak motives. To its credit, Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher successfully utilizes familiar anime tropes to bring the Marvel universe to animated life. The film is also laden with fun Marvel Easter eggs including surprise cameos from other much-loved Marvel characters.