Hello, my friends. There must come a time when even a “Rising Sun” must ultimately set. As such, I welcome you to the final installment of a review series simply known as…
We’ve been through quite a journey over the course of this series. From protecting an Arc Reactor and venturing on a harrowing quest to rescue a beloved lady to uncovering mutant activity aboard, traveling far to stop a vampire’s devious plans and prevent a Technovore-fueled apocalypse, this particular set has seen a lot throughout the early 2010s. Now, it’s time for two side-characters from our previous entry to take the stage and end this set on a high note in our final entry known as…
Originally released on March 25, 2014 in the U.S. before getting its Japanese release on September 3, this was the second and last movie for the series. How will the partnership between a high-ranking secret agent and an infamous gun-wielding crime-fighter fair when a major situation arises? Let’s dive in and find out.
We open in Seattle where our familiar vigilante is hiding out while overhearing a news broadcast about a recent slaying involving a high-tech weapon before checking out an online newspaper article covering his activities. Meanwhile, a familiar spy is also observing the same article before signing off.
Following the opening credits, we cut to nighttime down at the docks where Frank Castle a.k.a. The Punisher (voiced by Ultraman himself, Brian Bloom) makes his way inside a warehouse while mutilating every thug in his path. It turns out that a weapons deal was going down inside as one of the shady felons tries to flee.
However, an explosion occurs as Frank emerges from the flames after slaying every last henchman as he approaches the guy named Cain (voiced by Kyle Hebert) and demands to know he and his newly-deceased men acquired these hi-tech guns. Even as his right arm get broken in torture, the perp remains silent on the whole ordeal.
Unbeknownst to them, they’re being watched from afar. Shortly afterwards, Frank is approached by Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow (voiced by Debra Morgan herself, Jennifer Carpenter) and several S.H.I.E.L.D. aircrafts. She tells him that because of his actions, her agency is now unable to properly track down the same weapons supplier that they were after as well. As such, Natasha tells him that her boss would like to speak to him at once. Castle declines and tries to walk off with an unconscious Cain, but Romanoff refuses to let him go.
As such, they proceed to fight each other as she dodges his close-range gunfire while he manages to fend off her strikes. Eventually, their brawl gets called off as several armed S.H.I.E.L.D. agents surround him before Nick Fury (voiced by John Eric Bentley) finally shows up.
Frank then swiftly makes his way up to Nick and says that he’ll only talk with him if his agents stand down. However, Black Widow rectifies his request as she shoots some stun darts into his neck which knocks him out. As Fury and company carry him on board, Romanoff informs him that Cain regrettably managed to limp away during the confrontation.
After the Helicarrier takes off, Castle wakes up as he finds himself confronted by Natasha, Nick and his right-hand agent Maria Hill (voiced by Kari Wahlgren). Fury shows off Frank’s rap sheet of his various killings involving numerous criminals and states that while he didn’t have too great of a problem with the slayings of low-life criminals, Castle’s recent action has interfered with S.H.I.E.L.D’s operation. Fury then informs him about a terrorist organization that’s at the root of the recent street slayings via high-tech armaments: Leviathan. It turns out that this devious group managed to steal “S.H.I.E.L.D.’s proprietary weapons technology”. Maria exclaims that those guns have a similar operating system that their own laser-powered firearms have. Fury and company then exclaim that Cain was supposed to lead them to Leviathan, but were unable to when Frank intervened.
Believing that Cain possibly told Castle about the location for the weapons, Nick tries to get the information from him. However, the Punisher says that he’ll only cooperate if he’s relieved of his hi-tech cuffs and he’s allowed to go after Leviathan. After Fury reluctantly frees him, Frank takes out his digital device and shows him Cain’s current location, since he apparently placed a tracker on him. Afterwards, Nick informs him that Black Widow will be accompanying him on the mission.
Following a quick scene where a particular Leviathan member is at his computer console yet also has a decent amount of papers and pictures on Natasha…
…we cut to the fictional Northeast European country of Slorenia. On the way to the base, the Punisher wishes to know what Black Widow knows about their opposing group. She says that Leviathan was originally formed as a division of Russian intelligence. When that ultimately collapsed, they went underground and began to spread their influence across the planet. They especially gained a foothold within wartorn areas as their devious grasp grew to worldwide problems of human trafficking, assassinations, terrorist acts and drug sales. They remained elusive by never being tied into their crimes and their grand objectives are unknown outside of the group. Now, they’ve grown even stronger due to their theft of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s weaponry.
Afterwards, Black Widow and Punisher arrive at the outskirts of what used to be a facility used for biological weapons research, but was shut down 20 years ago due to a tragic accident that successfully covered Leviathan’s tracks over a long period of time. With Cain inside the compound, Frank refuses to wait until nighttime as he begins his infiltration with Natasha reluctantly following behind.
They manage to sneak into the facility while taking out a few guards along the way before reaching the main control deck. As they overlook the operations, it turns out that hundreds of human beings are presently held within stasis chambers. Just then, Castle notices Cain down among the workers. Romanoff says that he’s not their priority since they’re only here to observe and report.
However, the Punisher refuses to comply as he wants to take down the same guy who provided the weapons that took innocent lives on the street. When Natasha rejects his wishes, they have a brief scuffle before he ultimately heads out to fulfill his personal objective.
Later, Frank manages to reach Cain and knocks him out before taking him to a secluded room. After the perp wakes up, Castle holds a knife to his head and demands to know about the humans within their stasis chambers. After briefly mentioning about someone named “Orion”, Cain says he’ll cooperate. After being let go however, he grabs his cell phone and shines a bright light in Frank’s face as he manages to escape, leaving the device behind.
Meanwhile, Black Widow reaches another part of the facility where she subdues a pair of scientists before hacking into their database to download the vital information. During the process however, she finds out that someone has spotted her from the second-floor hallway. As such, she terminates the download and engages the soldier.
They get into a brief scuffle before the adversary reveals that he knows who she is. As he takes off his helmet, Natasha is stunned as she realizes that it’s Eliahs Starr (voiced by Grant George). Not only did he used to work for S.H.I.E.L.D., but he and Romanoff used to be in a relationship with each other. Not only that, he was supposedly dead but is somehow alive.
Angered that her former comrade has turned on S.H.I.E.L.D., she tries to strike him, but he blocks her strikes and subdues her in order to explain himself. Eliahs says that Leviathan gave him the chance to shed his scientist shell in order to become a strong warrior to order to win her love.
In a series of flashback, he states that due to Natasha’s status as a top-ranking spy and as an Avenger, he assumed that he would always be seen as beneath any chance of a relationship with her. He then offers her the chance to join Leviathan in order for them to be together.
Meanwhile, the Punisher attempts to make his way out of the sub-levels. He manages to incapacitate two guards before a small group of soldiers chase after him.
Back with Black Widow, she demands to know about the stasis chambers before giving a decision. Eliahs explains that they’re all the best spies from throughout the planet and have either been recruited or abducted in order to be turned into superpowered soldiers via a serum that he personally created & initially used himself. Once they’re good to go, they’ll be sold off to nations worldwide, even if it’s to two rivaling countries. From there, he asks her to join him within Leviathan. Unfortunately for him, Natasha rams her knee into his gut as her way of rejecting his offer.
From there, the facility gets rocked by a sudden explosion as the building goes into Red Alert, allowing the two former comrades to resume their fight. Intercut with that is the Punisher as he fends off the opposing guards in order to escape.
Eliahs’ serum-enhanced senses allows him to dodge Natasha’s stun darts before hitting her towards the computer console where he proceeds to choke her. Fortunately, she uses a modem to hit his head and frees herself before scoring a hit on his knee with a stun dart as she starts to gain the upper hand.
However, she gets distracted by an explosion from the upper level as Starr takes advantage and scores several hits to knock her off the platform. Fortunately, the Punisher arrives in time to catch her before detonating his explosives as Eliahs escapes.
Later, our heroes are flying back to base as they scan Cain’s cell phone. Unfortunately, the jet’s own browser is unable to find what they’re looking for.
As such, they arrive at a S.H.I.E.L.D. base in Istanbul, Turkey as Natasha escorts Frank to a secure part of the base. As he arrives there, he notices that one of the guards is a former Marine just like him.
They then arrive at the technological hub which serves as the work station for a young computer genius named Amadeus Cho (voiced by Eric Bauza) and his pet coyote named Kirby. Romanoff tells the young lad to decrypt every last piece of data from the cell phone within 10 minutes. As he attempts to hack through the device’s software and security locks, it suddenly causes a brief noise before it flashes a familiar bright light.
Things start to go bad as it turns out that the cell phone also has an explosive built into it and is going to blow up in three minutes. Even worse, the Punisher now stands over them and prepares to attack. It turns out that the previous flash that he saw via Cain activated a mind-controlling trigger in his subconscious. Now, Black Widow is forced to fend him off while Amadeus tries to deactivate the ticking time bomb.
As the young lad struggles to prevent the detonation, several armed guards rush in stop Frank. However, his mind-controlled rage causes him to gun them down. As Natasha steps back in to get him under control, Amadeus realizes that he won’t be able to deactivate the bomb in time. As such, he grabs and throws it into a storage unit where it safely blows up and frees Frank from his mind-controlled state.
After seeing the lethal horror of what he’s just done (especially to the former Marine, albeit not under his own power), several more armed guards arrive. Despite Romanoff assuring them that this massacre wasn’t by his own choosing, Frank willingly surrenders.
As Frank quietly sits in his containment cell, Natasha contacts Nick and informs him that Castle was victimized by Eliahs’ mind-control technology. Fury seems to agree with her, but says that he’s under pressure by higher authorities to have the Punisher imprisoned for the rest of his life. She then says that a key lead has been found from the cell phone’s code and that an Alpha strike should be unleashed before Leviathan sends its super-enhanced soldiers throughout the world. However, Nick is unwilling to send in the Avengers at this point due to the risk of them falling under mind-control and admits that this was the reason for why she was paired up with Frank for the assignment. Black Widow is angered by the fact that Fury seemed to have known more than he was willing to tell her and that she & Castle were somewhat expendable due to them not possessing superpowers. Putting that issue aside, she explains that Eliahs came up with a serum to use on himself and Leviathan’s troops. However, Nick reveals that Starr took some confidential information with him before his supposed death. It turns out to be DNA & blood reserves from fellow agents and Avengers that’s been used for the serum. Afterwards, he tells her to keep track of Leviathan, learn about the details of their brain-washing technology and take out their bio-enhanced armada. When she asks about the Punisher, he says that she’s been relieved of a partner before signing off. Afterwards, the scene ends with him looking at a particular picture on his desk as he wonders about his former agent.
Meanwhile, Frank has quick flashes of his tragic past when his family was gunned down during an innocent day in the park. Afterwards, Natasha stops by to inform him that the higher-ups are looking to put him away for good. He tells her that he became a living weapon follow his family’s murder and was forever fueled by revenge, but he’s ashamed that he killed those guards since he can be easily controlled by outside forces. Fortunately, she tells him that there’s still unfinished business to take care of as she gives him a handgun.
As such, they head out on a pair of hi-tech mini-crafts as Castle informs her of a past contact named Ren who specializes in keeping information about what’s going down in the criminal underworld and that he learned about him through Cain. With a lead for them to go on, they head out to Hong Kong as they traverse throughout the side streets before Frank explains that Ren previously hired him to slay a thug who kidnapped and murdered his daughter. They head into a clothing shop where an elderly merchant (who’s met him before) activates a hidden button in her cash register to let our heroes inside a secret passageway.
From there, they meet up with Ren (voiced by Fred Tatasciore) as Frank asks him for the location of an upcoming auction that Leviathan is hosting. However, he’s hesitant to tell them since he would put his two daughters in jeopardy. Natasha tells him that once those bio-enhanced soldiers are deployed throughout the world, innocent people (just like his own girls) would be put in peril. As such, he informs out heroes that the auction is going down tonight on Madripoor. Not only that, but several notorious villains will also be in attendance to take part in the bidding.
As they head south towards their destination, they’re contacted by Nick as he shows them a news broadcast covering an incident in Dubai that involves one of Leviathan’s Bio-Soldiers. With hardly any time to waste, Fury tells Natasha and Frank to get to Madripoor as soon as possible. Afterwards, he gives the order for an Alpha strike when Maria informs him that Tony Stark has contacted them.
Meanwhile at Madripoor’s auction house, Orion makes his announcement to the devious buyers in attendance as the main event is about to begin. Among said people are noticeable villains, such as Helmut Zemo, Count Nefaria, Taskmaster, Graviton, Grim Reaper and Griffin. Just then, Eliahs is informed that Black Widow and the Punisher have made landfall, but the Avengers are nowhere to be found.
Back with Natasha and Frank, they try to sneak their way through the back alleys in order to reach the main building. However, they’re suddenly approached by the Bio-Soldiers. As such, they engage their adversaries as Castle initially starts gunning them down. However, Romanoff says that the Bio-Soldiers are actually innocent people who were dragged into this conflict in a similar way that his family was. As such, he turns on the safety switch and proceeds to only wound them.
They manage to stun the initial group, but are suddenly surrounded by even more Bio-Soldiers. As they prepare to take them on, back-up suddenly rumbles in as it turns out to be Dr. Bruce Banner a.k.a. Hulk (also voiced by Fred Tatasciore) who proceeds to smash up the adversaries, with Natasha explaining that she “invited” some friends to this moment.
As Eliahs emerges and tries to take control of our heroes, he’s stunned to discover that the Hulk has resisted. Just then, Amadeus emerges and gives them a gadget that’ll coat their pupils with a nano-device in order to prevent them from getting mind-controlled. With them no longer susceptible to Leviathan’s manipulative ways, Punisher tells Black Widow to go after Eliahs while he fends off the Bio-Soldiers.
She chases after him before they arrive at a catwalk that’s right above the containment chambers as they proceed to fight each other. As he unleashes his enhanced strikes, he expresses his disappointment in her not joining his side after all he’s done to earn her love. She then strikes back as she says that she always cared for him back then, but that it wasn’t worth it for his crimes as she manages to kick his helmet off his head. However, he kicks her with enough force to nearly have her fall off the side. Realizing that he had always had her admiration, Eliahs manages to pull her back up to safety as Natasha apologizes for never knowing how badly he wanted to be with her. Afterwards, she tells him that it’s not too late to do the right thing and be the hero she always saw in him as they proceed to share a kiss.
As Hulk and Amadeus continue their march, Black Widow and Eliahs emerge from afar as he tells her about an emergency kill-switch implanted within the Bio-Soldiers in the event of either a security exploit, preventing third-parties from gaining personal control or even if the buyer wanted to use them against Leviathan itself to erase their own transaction. After stating that Orion has the mechanism, he also says that the building is packed with the villainous buyers. As such, Natasha is able to get Starr on her side in order to bring this operation down once and for all.
Soon enough, proper back-up begins to arrive as Clint Barton a.k.a. Hawkeye (voiced by Matthew Mercer) fires a series of explosive arrows that blow open a side in the building. Leviathan guards and the Bio-Soldiers are then approached by Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man (also voiced by Matthew Mercer) and the rest of the Avengers, consisting of James “Rhodey” Rhodes a.k.a. War Machine, Carol Danvers a.k.a. Captain Marvel and Thor.
Hulk, Amadeus and the Punisher show up shortly after the massive melee breaks out. Cho is flung off via the Hulk’s fierce momentum, but Frank manages to save him in time as he gets the lad outside and tells him to stay put.
Castle then rejoins the fight as he’s nearly approached by Taskmaster, but Iron Man manages to blast him away in time as he briefly brings up their recent encounter from the previous film. Punisher then proceeds to shoot a single bullet at him, which ricochets off of his helmet and even gets in a little witty banter before reengaging their adversaries.
Griffin, Grim Reaper and Graviton all proceed to join the free-for-all as the Avengers slowly but surely manage to defeat them.
Meanwhile, Black Widow and Eliahs sneak in to confront Orion (voiced by J.B. Blanc). Disappointed that his loyal agent has gone against him, he takes off his robe and proceeds to engage them in final combat. He then says that Leviathan will take control and instill their own enforcement throughout the world. Natasha scoffs at him for being nothing more than a terrorist, but he proceeds to blast her back.
Afterwards, Orion tries to win Eliahs back by saying that the world’s oppressors will be eliminated in order to help the oppressed. Fortunately, Starr isn’t buying it as he and Romanoff try to fight back. However, Orion manages to fiercely retaliate.
He then manages to shoot out a beam that disables Natasha’s stingers, but she and Eliahs begin to turn things around by taking turns with their attacks.
As such, Starr manages to relieve Orion of the killswitch as he proceeds to destroy it and cause the Bio-Soldiers to deactivate.
Afterwards, Helmut Zemo and Count Nefaria (both of whom sat out the massive battle) are able to escape while Griffin manages to elude War Machine’s arsenal and somehow flee as well.
Meanwhile, the Punisher arrives and prepares to kill Eliahs for what he did to him. Black Widow tries telling him not to fire before getting flung to the floor as Orion prepare to fire his massive Eye Beam. Fortunately, Starr manages to step in front of her and takes the sacrificial hit.
Orion then prepares to kill both of them, but Frank intervenes as they get into their own shootout. The fight concludes with Castle managing to slam his knife through the fiend’s laser eye and slay him in the process.
Afterwards, Natasha comforts the critically-injured Eliahs by letting him know that he’s always been a hero. From there, he succumbs to his injury and passes on.
Later, the sun rises on Madripoor as S.H.I.E.L.D. confiscates the Bio-Solders. Not only that, but they managed to arrest Taskmaster, Graviton and Grim Reaper.
Despite the victory, Fury tells Frank that Orion and Eliahs were supposed to be brought back alive in order to get their testimonies and use it to bring Leviathan to a permanent end. However, Castle says that he’s not a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and that he does things his own way since that’s who he is. As such, Nick orders Natasha to arrest him since he still has a murder charge hanging over him as well as a lifetime prison sentence.
Fury then proceeds to place him in handcuffs before telling her that she’s responsible for locking him up as he takes his leave. Afterwards, Black Widow releases him since she exclaims that they’re both comfortable with how they bring justice into the world. As such, she kisses him before letting him go. As she throws the handcuffs into the water, she tells Stark that she threw Frank “into the ocean” as he smirks.
And so, the film ends in Miami, Florida with the discovery that Cain has been laying low during most of the film. As he heads into the restroom to do his personal buisiness, the lights suddenly go out as the Punisher arrives to finally get his vengeance.
Now, let’s get to my character analysis and kick things off with Black Widow. For the most part, she’s loyal to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s noble causes. When she starts off her mission with the Punisher, she sticks to her agency’s code in order to make sure that the ultimate objective get achieved. After getting the shock of her life when Eliahs Starr returns but having sided with Leviathan (partially due to not entirely realizing how much he was in love with her) and even having her partner become entangled within the law’s sights due to his past & present actions, she must balance herself between helping a gun-wielding vigilante achieve some form of redemption and helping a former colleague see the error of his intentions. In a sort of way, this results in a narrative (not romantic) triangle being formed with one side serving as a present business partnership and the other resembling a past relationship that could have been. By the end, Frank ultimately teaches her that the law is worth fighting for but some rules aren’t meant to be followed every time. This is especially true when she lets Castle go after Fury had her arrest him for his actions. Jennifer Carpenter turns in a nice performance here, giving good vocal range from charming & confident to determined, headstrong and tough when serious situations start to go down. Even though Natasha is one of the main characters, there’s not much else here I could find that’s worth discussion. As such, let’s move on.
Next up, we reach our favorite vigilante himself: The Punisher. For starters, his one-man war against organized crime gets him caught up in our main situation when he breaks up a high-tech weapons sale that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been monitoring for a while. His historically-seeded nature naturally butts heads with the lawful agency as he’s forced to partner up with Natasha in order to pay for his interference. Throughout the journey, he’s mainly static as far as major character growth but does become comfortable working alongside Romanoff, especially with what happens to him. When Cain flashes a mind-control trigger into his brain and eventually causes him to kill several guards against his will, this shakes him to his core since he discovers that he could wind up as a weapon for his enemies and make him go against his ruthless protection for the innocent civilians. It’s odd that she’s able to easily get him out of his cell in order for them to finish their mission (especially since Fury told her that she doesn’t have a partner anymore), but a timely assist by Amadeus Cho and the Avengers allow him to put a permanent end to a deep-seated Leviathan root before he finally offs Cain to close out our feature. In terms of performance, Brian Bloom is low-keyed but effectively ruthless. He brings the tones of a solider who’s been at this one-manned crusade for approximately 15-20 years, but also leaves himself open to bring some levity for a few bits of wit.
Finally, let’s touch up on Eliahs Starr. Serving as a tragic villain-turned-hero, he’s a man whose personal aspirations ultimately drive him to disaster. His personal history began with him as a respected S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist who developed a fondness for Natasha. Despite them sharing some chemistry in the past, he was too stricken by fear to take the next step and try to advance their relationship, mainly due to positional status within the agency. After faking his own death, he takes the blood & DNA samples that he had from his former colleagues and joins Leviathan in order to taking more seriously. During his time under their eye, he did grow more self-confident though his experimentations. However, his own attempt to have Natasha see him as the man he wants to be came at a price: His own experiments used as Leviathan’s means to carry out their plans for world-domination. Throughout the film, Romanoff does manage to sway him back to her side and he’s able to redeem himself when he takes a fatal hit that would have killed her, since Orion’s laser blast did destroy his armor and struck his vital upper organs. Ultimately, Black Widow was able to give him one last chance to be the noble man she always saw him as and he firmly grasps it when he sacrifices his own life for hers. For the most part, Grant George is confident with his performance. Though his line delivery (especially towards Natasha) can sound hokey at time, he’s mainly effective throughout and makes ol’ “Egghead” an effective piece in this three-part character arc.
The story is basic and comprehensive enough to follow with a fairly good sense of pacing between exposition, levity and action. There is a key point of logic that doesn’t make complete sense later on when Nick relieving Natasha of her partner after he was mind-controlled into murder, only to contact them after they learn about the location of Leviathan’s auction and seems calm about them being back together. Sure, this gave them the opportunity to shut down the selling of Bio-Soldiers and there was the mention of Fury telling her that she’ll need to explain why the Punisher was let loose. It may also give off the impression that Nick isn’t as strict as his officials, even though he does call for Frank’s arrest after Orion and Eliahs wound up dead. However, there’s no real consequence for Castle since he escapes back to America for his fulfilling ending. There was also an animation flub when Black Widow passes by Tony Stark to throw the Punisher’s handcuffs into the ocean. After walking by him from one end, it then has him flipped to the other side to give the impression that (as MST3K once said) “space is warped and time is bendable”, at least the former. Other than those two points, there’s no other narrative hiccups I could find. As far as the animation and color palette are concerned, they serve this tale really well. The fluidity is effective and never displays any major faults. As for the palette, nothing’s either too bright or too dark to make out, thus allowing its narrative to shine through. As far as the supporting characters are concerned, there’s a varying degree though none were entirely pointless. Amadeus Cho (who I didn’t know was actually from the comics) was nice with his technological purpose, Nick Fury didn’t get to do much (just like Maria Hill) but was fairly effective and Orion was powerful, but his motives never elevate past two-dimensional.
Overall, this was an entertaining (even if a somewhat decent series finale) outing. The story was simple, the situation was engaging, the action was nice, the animation was mainly solid and our two main characters made for a steady action pair. While not a glowing recommendation, it’s still worth watching if you’re a Marvel fan, an anime fan, a fan of comic book/superhero films, or even an action movie fan. No matter what your tastes are, there’s bound to be something here that’ll satisfy you.
And so, the Marvel Anime series has officially come to an end. Maybe I’ll revisit this series for a more proper final thoughts, but it was quite a ride over the course of 14 months, 48 total episodes and two films. If you’re looking for a more stylish side of Marvel, then this collection would be worthy of shining a rising sun’s light upon.
Black Widow (created by Stan Lee, Don Rico & Don Heck), Punisher (created by Gerry Conway, John Romita, Sr. & Ross Andru), Avengers (created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby) and all related characters are owned by Marvel Comics.