Elektra (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

I have never understood the appeal of Jennifer Garner as an action/adventure star. Based on my limited exposure to her work, she's better in comedic or lightly dramatic roles (such as her turn in 13 Going on 30). Nothing that happens in Elektra has changed my mind. Although Garner was arguably the best thing about the lukewarm comic book adaptation of Daredevil, her character had limited screen-time, playing fourth fiddle to Ben Affleck, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Colin Farrell. The translation from supporting character to lead doesn't go smoothly. Garner has difficulty carrying this movie, although the weakness of the script could be part of the reason.

Instead of following the usual superhero path of the protagonist trying to stop a diabolical villain from taking over the world (or some similarly grandiose goal), Elektra goes all metaphysical on us. It seems that we have reached a key point in the endless battle between good and evil. A Chosen One has been born and both sides want her. Evil is represented by "The Hand" - a bunch of Japanese bad guys who have cool powers and disappear in a puff of green smoke when they are killed. Good is represented by the film's resident Yoda/Mr. Miyazaki, Stick (Terence Stamp, who played the super-villain Zod in Superman II) and his reluctant pupil, Elektra (Garner). She isn't done with her training yet, so she's not a real Jedi, and the dark side of the Force beckons… Oops, sorry, wrong movie.

"But, wait," you say, "Elektra died in Daredevil." That is a correct observation, but in films like this, death is only a temporary inconvenience. Characters return from beyond the grave as often in comic books as they do in soap operas. It turns out that Stick can manipulate time and revive the dead. Elektra starts out her second life as his apprentice, but is eventually kicked out of paradise. Instead of seeking out Ben Affleck (at least on screen), she becomes a paid assassin (imitating what he did in Gigli). It's after she turns down a job to kill Mark Miller (Goran Visnjic) and his teenage daughter, Abby (Kirsten Prout), that she runs afoul of The Hand. They have decided that if Chosen One Abby won't join them, they'll eliminate her from the equation. When Elektra becomes Mark and Abby's accidental protector, she ends up headed for a confrontation with the evil sorcerer/swordsman Kirigi (Will Yun Lee) and his henchmen, Tatoo (Chris Ackerman replacing the late Herve Villechaize), Stone (Bob Sapp), and Typhoid (Natissia Malthe).

There's really only one good action sequence in all of Elektra, and that's the climactic battle between the title character and her nemesis. Director Rob Bowman borrows techniques from Hong Kong martial arts duels for this fight, but their integration is sloppy. Zhang Yimou (Hero, The House of Flying Daggers) might have been able to do something with all of the dancing sheets, but Bowman's use of them is merely confusing. This one-on-one struggle has plenty of high-energy moments, but the resolution is unsatisfying. When it was over, my underwhelmed reaction was, "Is that it?"

Elektra contains plenty of intriguing elements that are left unexplored. Except for an occasional quip, we never learn much about her death experience. The character is afflicted with an obsessive/compulsive disorder, but this turns out to be a personality quirk that is discarded when it doesn't play a role in the storyline's resolution. All of the human relationships (Elektra/Stick, Elektra/Abby, Elektra/Mark) are underdeveloped. I think there's supposed to be some sort of romantic attraction between Elektra and Mark (after all, they kiss twice), but actors Garner and Goran Visnjic (on a break from "E.R.") never connect.

Elektra is one of the least effective comic book-to-movie stories to have come along in the past few years. Without a viable screenplay, there's nowhere for the character to go, and no way to avoid making her look silly. Garner looks elektra-cute in red, but I should not have been thinking about the impracticality of that outfit as assassin's garb. Involving movies banish such thoughts; Elektra encourages them. When a comic book movie fails to grab its audience, it is apt to come across as excruciatingly dumb. That description applies to offerings like Catwoman, The Punisher, and Elektra. This movie is better than the other two, but that's not company in which any self-respecting superhero would want to be included.

Elektra (United States, 2005)

Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 2005-01-14
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1