Released in 2014, Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher was an anime-style animated feature produced in Japan taking The Punisher and throwing him in an Avengers storyline led by Black Widow, of all people.
How does that work?
As it turns out, surprisingly well.
Taking a page out of DC's book, Marvel lends its characters to a group of competent animators who, much like most of the Batman animated features, not only deliver a visually appealing film but respect the source material. The film doesn't take the easy route either: it would have been a breeze to just make an Avengers movie like the poster suggests, packed with familiar characters throughout, but the fact that this focuses on The Punisher and his unlikely collaboration with Black Widow is refreshingly daring and original. The plot sees S.H.I.E.L.D. clash with The Punisher (voiced by Brian Bloom) over a specific case which Nick Fury explains goes deeper than Frank Castle knows. The latter therefore teams up with Black Widow (voiced by Jennifer Carpenter) as they set off to investigate a terrorist organisation called Leviathan who has been operating using S.H.I.E.L.D. technology.
This movie single-handedly proves that there is a way to make a Black Widow movie so if Hollywood was ever reluctant to give Scarlett Johansson her own solo outing then Avengers Confidential should have convinced them it is, in fact, a good idea. And, with Jon Bernthal bringing Frank Castle to life so well in the Daredevil Netflix series this year, there's no reason why a straight-up live-action adaptation of this animated feature shouldn't be made, or a variation on it at least. Black Widow not only has to worry about working with a loose cannon who could turn psycho at any time in this film, but she has to try to take down a big, dangerous organisation mostly by herself and face her estranged partner Elihas Starr (aka Egghead) who is working, she soon finds out, for Leviathan.
The animation is terrific throughout and, although the script throws some odd lines our way here and there, the writing is solid with the voice cast doing a good job overall. The build-up of Punisher and Black Widow working together is very effective and it's almost a shame the film devolves into a typical Avengers film near the end with Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and others jumping in to save the day since, up to that point, both titular characters had been carefully fleshed-out to the point where you believed these two could take care of business without any help. That said, it is admittedly a bit of a treat to see the team reunited and fighting cool villains like Baron Zemo and Count Nefaria.
Avengers Confidential is one of those animated films that probably bypassed your radar upon its release but this is one of those little gems that you should check out, especially if you're an Avengers and/or Punisher fan: it's fun, dark, brutal, emotional, clever and it looks awesome.