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"Elektra": The Lady in Red is Boring

by on April 17, 2005

And they just keep on coming. Determined to leave no potentially profit-concealing stone in their universe unturned, Marvel Comics has begun to crank out films about characters that even casual comic readers would stick in one of Hollywood Squares‘s dustier corners. Apparently falling victim to the Titanic fallacy (audiences love Titanic, audiences must also love all big ships), Marvel seems convinced that every hero in tights might be the next Spiderman. Or heroine in a tight bustier, as is the case with Elektra.

Red means stopQuite frankly I didn’t see the need for this movie. The commercials made it seem like a weak Blade rip-off, and the word of mouth was generally bad. Still, being a genre fan, I went into Elektra hoping to be surprised. And I was, but not in the way I’d hoped to be. Elektra is no Catwoman. By which I mean it isn’t particularly awful, just incredibly dull. For all its ludicrous stupidity, Catwoman at least was fun to laugh at. Which takes me back to my original point. For superhero movies to make a splash at the increasingly overcrowded box office, they need to deliver something uniquely entertaining, whether it be action, drama, comedy, effects or what have you. With Elektra I just got more of what I’d seen in other movies.

The amazingly generic prologue explains that a fight between the forces of good and evil has been raging for centuries, and that a motherless girl is the key to this struggle. No, you can’t leave yet. We first meet assassin-for-hire Elektra (Alias‘s Jennifer Garner) as she carries out a hit on an unidentified master criminal (Peter Pan‘s Jason Isaacs), knocking off the best cast member in the first five minutes. Oops. Meanwhile the evil organization known as The Hand, based in a modern penthouse with a thatched roof (!), plots her destruction. Against her better instincts she quickly takes on a new assignment for a great sum, settling into a house on a small island in Canada to await further instructions. Via flashbacks we see Elektra discover as a child the death of her parents at the hands of demons and later return from the dead herself (see Daredevil) to receive her ninja training from master Stick (The Phantom Menace‘s Terence Stamp). Stick cast her out eventually, thinking her too dominated by anger to achieve true enlightenment, or “kimagure.” Perhaps she also poked fun at his Japanese, since his pronunciation and definition of the word are way off.

She meets up with friendly neighbor Mark Miller (ER‘s Goran Visnjic) and his teenage daughter Abby and hesitantly joins them for a disarming Christmas dinner. Soon afterward she discovers to her horror that they are her targets. Unable to do the job herself, she lingers to see what will happen, and arrives just in time to save Mark and Abby from a pair of ninja sent by The Hand. Resigning itself to more drastic measures, The Hand assigns Elektra’s extermination to the murderous Kirigi and his team of supernatural assassins: the poisonous Typhoid Mary, rock hard Stone, animal master Tattoo, and very ordinary Kinkou (the team’s Aquaman). Elektra seeks counsel from Stick, but is rebuffed for acting on blind instinct, failing to even question why Mark and Abby have been targeted. She goes on the lam with them, Kirigi’s assassins hot on their trail.

But where's Black Manta?This hackneyed dinosaur of a story rumbles along with nary a twist or turn. At least no twists one can’t spot coming. Good vs. evil, chosen one, path to enlightenment: the script reads like it was spit out by a film cliché generator. I don’t claim to be overly familiar with the comic book exploits of Elektra, but from what I have read she’s a hardboiled killer who preys on criminals. The film starts out promisingly in a similar vein, but quickly loses steam once the corny Golden Child plot takes center stage. This emphasis on black magic and mysticism seems a very odd choice for the character, who would seem more at home in a thriller like The Bourne Identity or gritty revenge story like The Punisher. Come to think of it, Kill Bill Volume One strikes me as the perfect Elektra vehicle. Truly a missed opportunity.

Girl on girl action!Garner acquits herself well in her second lead role. Though not an award-winning performance by any means, she convincingly portrays the coiled steel intensity of the assassin, perhaps because she’s had so much practice on Alias. Supposedly her character’s search for validation is a major theme in the movie, but it’s developed in a rather shallow and contrived manner. A shame, since the inner workings of an assassin’s mind would be interesting to explore. Stamp generally phones in his wise old mentor role, and the supervillains are a bit cartoony, but the cast does a decent job across the board. No one makes much of an impression, although to be fair they aren’t given much of substance to say.

There isn’t a whole lot that really stayed with me from the film. Most of the martial arts sparring and special effects seemed a little generic. Call me jaded if you will, but there’s an awful lot of this stuff these days and it takes a lot to stand out. The one really solid action scene is the frantic struggle with the ninjas in Mark’s cabin, made more intense by its relative realism and claustrophobic setting. Though I must confess a chuckle at the wacky Looney Tunes choreography when Stone smashes the base of the massive tree Elektra is in, only to have it topple directly on his head Wile E. Coyote style. And there is a bizarre sequence in which Elektra and Kirigi cross blades amidst a sea of swirling white laundry. I’m sure a close examination of the foreground will reveal a bottle of Tide somewhere.

Hot and heavy between the sheetsIf the beating it took at the box office wasn’t bad enough, Elektra is shown astonishing disrespect from Fox in the DVD presentation. The “special” features are even worse than those on the lowly Catwoman, and a joke next to stable mates Daredevil and X-Men. There’s no commentary, no real documentary, and not even one of the fascinating character history pieces that all other recent superhero discs have included. What we do get is about twenty minutes of promotional TV fluff pieces purportedly about the making of the film, but they’re very repetitive and not very informative. Amusingly included is Elektra‘s Comic-Con presentation in which Garner desperately attests to the authenticity of the film to the throngs of salivating comic geeks. Boy, they must have been disappointed. And not just because there aren’t any wardrobe malfunctions. The one and only gem in this sad procession is a deleted scene featuring the 30-second appearance of Daredevil! Well, Matt Murdock anyway, who appears in a dream beckoning Elektra to come back to him. One would have thought this was originally cut because this film didn’t want to be connected with recent box office pariah Ben Affleck, but in hindsight it’s probably him who’s relieved. Anyway, it made me wish I were watching Daredevil instead. Not Gigli though. Savvy move by Fox to decline a Daredevil sequel in favor of this pabulum.

If you’re a huge fan of the comics, then you may want to check out the Elektra, but keep in mind the words “poetic license.” I can’t really recommend it to anyone else though. Garner groupies don’t get much to look at, and action junkies will doze off during the long lulls (and maybe even the action scenes). Sure it’s not actually a bad film, but there are more entertaining ways to be bored. Like sending Marvel your latest draft of Howard the Duck 2. On second thought, don’t give them any ideas.

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