Friday, July 01, 2005

Elektra / *½ (PG-13)

Elektra: Jennifer Garner
Abby Miller: Kirsten Prout
Mark Miller: Goran Visnjic
Kirigi: Will Yun Lee
Roshi: Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
Stick: Terence Stamp

Twentieth Century Fox presents a film directed by Rob Bowman. Written by Zak Penn, Stuart Zicherman and Raven Metzner. Running time: 97 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for action violence).

Elektra, one in the latest wave of comic book characters re-envisioned for film, is a victim of its own pretensions. It doesn’t want to be a comic book adventure; it would prefer to be a mystic Chinese swordplay flick in the vein of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Hero, but it lacks both the intelligence and imagination to run in that sort of company. A spin-off of the Marvel comic book movie Daredevil, it leaves its viewers wishing it actually had the depth the filmmakers seem to think it does.

Jennifer Garner reprises her role as Elektra from the Daredevil movie. While she was killed at the end of that story, she is resurrected here by a spiritual and martial arts master known simply as Stick (Terence Stamp, The Limey). The only explanation for such an silly name for a martial arts sensei is a scene in which he plays pool very aptly for a blind man. Her death and renewed life has left Elektra somewhat unbalanced. Although her spirit longs to be good, the only thing that she seems to be any good at is killing. She is an assassin for hire, who has developed a reputation for being unstoppable, invisible, and coldly lethal.

The film opens with a hit on a man named DeMarco (Jason Isaacs, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, in an uncredited role) that seems to know he has no chance of survival with Elektra as his assassin; perhaps because he chooses to sit there and wait for her to come rather than do anything to get away. He narrates to his bodyguard how Elektra will get past all his security like a ghost and kill all who get in her way. Even with his boss’s encouraging words and being able to see each of his team taken out by the shadows on video monitors, the bodyguard foolishly tries to do his job to the end, but the end is quick. As Elektra prepares to finish DeMarco she whispers in his ear, her signature, about how she died once from across the room and right behind him at the same time. It is actually a fairly intense sequence and does a good job getting the idea of the Elektra character across. Alas, the idea of the Elektra character is about all the movie is successful at conveying.

As for the actual character of Elektra, rather than the idea of one, Garner spends most of the film looking pissed off at the world and cutting herself off from any human contact, including any sort of connection with the audience. She even spends long periods alone on the screen without letting her guard down for the audience. She is so good at sulking here that it is hard to believe she is so likable on Alias every week. I’m not saying it is a bad performance. She embodies it so well, this is either her real personality, or she has been misdirected.

Director Rob Bowman shows little of the skills here he developed as one of the most accomplished directors of The X-Files television series. Yes, it has his signature dark moodiness, but lacks the characterization and humor he used to make that series a success. There is a band of villains in this film that make Colin Farrell’s undeveloped performance as Bullseye in the Daredevil movie look like a masterwork in character study, and Typhoid and Tattoo could have really been interesting.

Anyway, Elektra is hired to off a guy named Mark Miller (Goran Visnjic, NBC’s ER) and his daughter (Kristen Prout, Once Upon a Christmas), but before she knows they are her targets she gets to know them and can’t find it in her to complete her mission. But there are many other people interested in killing them because of their secret, and therefore when Elektra decides to protect them, there are many people interested in killing her.

Considering the pedigree of the Elektra character as one of the grittiest action based in the Marvel compendium and the director’s slant to take the film in the direction of Chinese swordplay actioners, it is surprising how bad the action scenes are in the film. Most sequences seem only half realized, with each character only getting a chance to pose and swing before their role in the fight is done with. There is a scene in a forest where Elektra must take on four different supernaturally powered villains where each appears on screen and flexes their muscles before they are either defeated or pushed aside by other forces. Elektra never really fights any of them in that scene. There is another showdown between Elektra and the leader of these unsavories where there are sheets flying all throughout the room in which they are fighting. The sheets look cool, but only serve to provide places where the villain can pop up out of nowhere (but behind the sheet that is) and surprise! Elektra with an ambush.

I really expected better from this character that starred in one of Marvel’s first “for mature readers” books. This movie certainly isn’t for mature readers, I wonder if the makers even had a script from which to read; and it certainly isn’t for mature audiences. I suspect even a video game drone’s mind might wander while watching this movie’s uninspired action sequences, and they would be the only reason to see it anyway.

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