Judge David Johnson has an awesome red ninja suit too.
She's all that stands between good and evil.
Comic book movies are about as prevalent as Starbucks cafés these days, and Hollywood studios appear more than eager to throw all kinds of money at any project starring people in tights. These comic book flicks have ranged from kid-friendly (Spider-Man) to brutally nihilistic (Sin City), from pretty damn good (X2) to rancid (Batman and Robin). Where on the continuum does our newest hero fall?
Facts of the Case
Following the events of Daredevil, where Elektra (Jennifer Garner, Alias) had supposedly died, the film picks up with a substantially alive, red-leather-clad Elektra, wreaking havoc on a bunch of hired goons.
But before we get into all of that, let's set the table. Thanks to an expository chunk of text, we discover that for centuries, the forces of good and evil have waged a covert war, and that there is a prophecy declaring that a female warrior will be born to tip the balance of power.
Back in the present, the forces of the evil are represented by a clandestine organization called the Hand; on the other side, the good guys, under the tutelage of a blind combat master named Stick (Terence Stamp, Superman II), relentlessly train for battle. Stick stumbles upon the mortally wounded Elektra, and through some super-fantastic mystical ability, brings her back to life. She joins up with his band of warriors and begins to train—only to be booted out because of her anger management problem.
So now Elektra makes her living as the world's most lethal assassin, unaware of a confluence of events that will place her in the middle of the war she once trained for. She meets Mark Miller (Goran Visnjic, ER) and his daughter Abby (Kirsten Prout) and soon finds herself defending them from an onslaught by the Hand, led by badass Kirigi (Will Yun Lee) and his band of Freaks With Lousy Villain Names. Elektra will have to call upon all her butt-kicking skills and menacing scowls to prove victorious and avoid dying for a second time, though I don't think there's a limit on how many times you can be brought back to life by a mysterious kung-fu master.
Oh comic book movies, what a mixed bag you are. Daredevil was a subpar movie, one I have zero interest in watching again. To be honest, I was surprised that Elektra was even made, since the title character stemmed from the Ben Affleck-helmed steamer. I don't recall a vociferous clamoring for a spinoff with Elektra, but like it or not, it's here. So is it any good?
No, not really.
Let me talk about the good stuff first. One, Elektra isn't a light piece of popcorn fluff. The atmosphere is dark throughout, thanks mainly to some conscious stylistic decisions on the part of director Rob Bowman. The color palette is all shadows and contrast. This is almost certainly a statement on the character of Elektra herself—a woman in conflict. She is often overly deadly in her assignments, short on the mercy with plenty of death to dispense. I found this tone satisfying, and, in fact, with a little more blood thrown around, Elektra would not be far from an R rating.
Also, when the action scenes hit (and they are lamentably rare; more on that later), they're not bad. Jennifer Garner boasts an athletic presence few actresses have, and her skill is put on display nicely here. As she admits in some of the bonus materials, she did much of the fighting sans stunt double. In addition, I thought the CGI wasn't half bad. Though there were certainly some low points—the villain Typhoid's ability to kill all surrounding plant life left much to be desired—the visual effects were pretty good. Tattoo, a baddie whose tattoos come to life (get it? His name is Tattoo!) receives the most computer assistance. Thanks in part to the consistently dark environment, which for my money always makes CGI look better, his gags came off looking the cleanest and coolest.
And that's about all I've got for compliments, kids. Elektra significantly lacks in pretty much everything else.
As far as the story goes, well, it doesn't. The Elektra mythos is relegated to the opening text, some cryptic claptrap spouted by Stick, and the ruminations of the heavies. The Hand is an entity utterly unexplored. Basically, all the world's evil is controlled by about a dozen rejects from The Apprentice who sit around a table and take orders from the guy who played Shang Tsung in Mortal Kombat. Even the super-powered villains, stupid names and all, serve no other purpose than to use their gimmicky little abilities on Elektra and then be defeated in some kind of nifty way.
As for our heroine, I don't know what the process is for resurrecting the dead, but it apparently involves ramming a stick up the person's butt. For all of Garner's impressive athletic ability, her Elektra is a complete bore, devoid of charisma, with her facial expression permanently set on "cranky." For that reason Elektra lacks a vital element for a successful comic book movie: a hero we care about. I think Bowman wanted to craft her as a creature of redemption, and in her journey to awesomeness, do-gooder land is the payoff. Unfortunately the conflict between darkness and redemption suffers from a mix of bad writing and uninteresting acting. We're only told that Elektra is a big meanie. That's just lazy. Show us her dark deeds—that's what makes the story of redemption compelling! None of this is helped by Garner's strait-laced performance; basically, Elektra at the end of the movie differs little from Elektra at the beginning.
How 'bout the action? A film about a hot leather-clad female assassin battling the forces of evil better be flush with mayhem, yet Elektra is not. The few bits of action before the climactic showdown (which does have some juice) are quick and uninvolving. Instead, we have to endure story and character development that doesn't ever go anywhere. Hey, instead of some contrived nonsense about meditating and following "The Way," let's get that bodacious ninja girl and her shiny blades out kicking some tail.
The biggest blight on the movie, though, is the dreaded Irritating Little Pain-in-the-Butt Kid Syndrome. Few things annoy me more than the smart-ass preadolescent that filmmakers foist on the heroes to either humanize them or harass them to the glee of the children in the audience. The character of Abby Miller is a prime example. She never listens, tries to set up Elektra with her dad (the little-more-than-an-extra Visnjic), runs headlong into danger, and wields one of the lamest weapons in comic book screen history: a magical necklace she uses as a whip. Accchh.
In the end, Elektra lacks a cohesive, involving mythology. It boasts a main character who is outshone by her outfit, some goofy villains, an annoying little kid, and too few action sequences. A worthy follow-up to Daredevil indeed.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is clean, though I'm not a fan of the color levels Bowman used. The movie comes across as too dark, with even the daytime scenes looking like they were filmed at sunset. The exception: Elektra's red suit, which just burns on the screen. The film sports two 5.1 digital tracks, Dolby and DTS. There is little difference between the two; both are equally strong.
The bonus materials are standard throw-away promo stuff. "The Making of Elektra" throws in a few interviews with Bowman and Garner and other cast members, but it's mostly an excuse to rehash the movie. "Inside the Editing Room" is blatantly promotional in nature, as is Jennifer Garner's Comic-Con presentation, where she spends more time talking about how sexy her red suit is (obviously playing to the demographic). The most interesting extra is a deleted scene (amid a few mediocre ones) that features Ben Affleck as his Daredevil character appearing to Elektra in a dream.
Yes, Jennifer Garner is one heck of a physical presence. Yes, the film is dark. And yes, Terence Stamp is in it. But Elektra's true super-power is mediocrity.
The accused is found guilty of existing at no one's behest.
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