Elektra Review

by Michael Dequina (mrbrown AT iname DOT com)
February 1st, 2005

_Elektra_ (PG-13) * (out of ****)

    _Elektra_ certainly appeared to be a can't-miss proposition: a spin-off of the financially successful 2003 screen adaptation of _Daredevil_, focusing on what was considered one of the best things about the film; a headlining vehicle for rising star Jennifer Garner; a release date closely following the season premiere of Garner's cult/critics' fave television series _Alias_, which so happens to be enjoying a ratings upsurge of late. Rob Bowman's finished product, however, is a study in how such a "can't miss" project can go awry in just about every conceivable way.
    As with any film, it all starts with the writing, and the root of _Elektra_'s evil can be traced to scripter Zak Penn and co-story creators Stu Zicherman and Raven Metzner's efforts--or lack thereof. That the sai-wielding woman warrior Elektra Natchios (Garner) now sports her traditional red (after inexplicably wearing black in _Daredevil_) appears to be the extent of their and Bowman's understanding of the character. After an interesting, if not terribly thrilling, action sequence in which we witness the now-resurrected Elektra on the job as a hired assassin, the film then dives into thirty minutes of this badass, blood-thirsty babe... sitting around, doing nothing. Literally. Her latest contract job puts her on a remote island, and while awaiting further instructions, she reluctantly gets to know her neighbors, Mark Miller (the ever-boring George Clone-y, a.k.a. Goran Visnjic) and his thoroughly annoying young daughter Abby (Kristen Prout). No prizes for anyone who correctly guesses who Elektra's latest mark(s) turn(s) out to be.

    Of course, Elektra suddenly feels pangs of a conscience and decides to instead protect the pair, irking the ninja syndicate The Hand, who are after the two for mysterious (and, as it turns out, thoroughly ludicrous) reasons. This should be the point where _Elektra_ takes off, but it's where the film completely falls to pieces. It's not due to the whole "killer finds value in life" hook, which is actually rather expected; what is unexpected, however, is the degree to which the traditionally dark character of Elektra softens. While bouts with guilt do plague the character on the page, one would never see her goof around and engage in tickling sessions with kiddies, as she does with Abby here; she would always maintain some steely resolve. But not only is the portrayal of the character of Elektra problematic, so is her world. One major part of her appeal is that she is one of the more down-to-earth, down-and-dirty characters of the Marvel Universe; she's a deadly martial artist, and as such the opponents she generally faces were on that decidedly less fanciful level. Bowman and the writers, thinking that gritty action isn't enough for a comic-based blockbuster, go overboard with incredibly chintzy-looking visual effects that serve no discernible purpose other than to fill some type of unspoken, understood CGI quota.

    And it just gets worse from there. I can understand why the filmmakers would not want to heavily reference the events in _Daredevil_ so as to make this film stand more firmly on its own, but it is baffling from a storytelling perspective. Considering how Elektra's murderous rage is a key point, why then is the incident that stoked the fire in the first place--her beloved father's death, as seen in the previous film--not addressed at all? Granted, action, not story, is the main interest here, and even in that respect _Elektra_ disappoints, as the stunningly few action sequences are unimpressive; the falling, billowing sheets accenting one swords-'n-sais faceoff may have been slightly interesting had we not already seen it done far more memorably in Zhang Yimou's _Hero_. (Okay, maybe not.) Even other would-be "cool" touches are simply cold: shoehorning Daredevil villainess Typhoid Mary into the proceedings makes little sense in a film centering on Elektra (after all, her split personality--which isn't even covered here--and twisted relationship with Matt Murdock is what makes her character really fascinating); and Terence Stamp, who initially seemed an inspired casting choice as Elektra's blind martial arts master (and, in the comic mythos, he also trained Matt Murdock) phones it in, apparently just content to cash a check and bolster his already-strong geek cred by turning up here.

    "Phoning it in" applies to just about everyone involved in the making _Elektra_, and as such it appears every bit the slapdash, cash-in rush job that it is. Even Garner is adrift here as Bowman seems at a complete loss as to how to make anything work: the story, any of the characters, just about every action scene (do we really need multiple slo-mo shots of Elektra merely *leaping*?)--or simply holding the audience's attention. Above being a bad movie, _Elektra_ is a boring one, and a horribly missed opportunity for making a viable screen franchise for one of the most compelling characters to grace the comic book page.

2005 Michael Dequina

Michael Dequina
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