– Summary –
Director : Rob Bowman
Year Of Release : 2005
Principal Cast : Jennifer Garner, Terence Stamp, Goran Visnjic, Kirsten Prout, Will Yun Lee, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Colin Cunningham.
Approx Running Time : 95 Minutes (Theatrical Release)
Synopsis: Deadly assassin Elektra must save a teenage girl from capture by the evil organization known as The Hand.
What we think : Flat, passionless, pointless entry into 20th Century Fox’s Marvel canon that has plenty of great visuals, but zero audience interest. Jennifer Garner is solid in an undemanding role, and Rob Bowman’s direction teeters on schizophrenic as he battles to provide the film with either drama or excitement, failing to achieve both and leaving this film as a poor, red-headed stepchild to the rest of the genre’s successes.
Lots of nothing.
After the middling success of Daredevil in 2003, I’m not quite sure exactly who was clamoring for a full feature on Elektra; the character had appeared in Daredevil opposite Ben Affleck, with Jennifer Garner providing a sexy, tough-and-rumble portrayal of the iconic Marvel assassin, yet it was a critical point in that movie that the character seemed lost on the periphery. Still, there’s no accounting for Hollywood wanting to see a hot actress dressed in red leather strutting about with a pair of sai, doing untold damage to all manner of henchmen and other Bad Guys. Elektra’s release was met with scathing critical reviews, and in the end only barely made its production budget back thanks to a lackluster box-office return. Considering how successful comic book films were back at that point (in the original X-Men heyday), it’s a surprise that the film wasn’t at least a financial success, even if it wasn’t impressive to the critics. Is Elektra really that bad? How badly could Fox screw up one of Marvel’s most famous female characters to the point that it killed off any chance of a sequel, including a continuation of Daredevil as well?
Plot synopsis courtesy Wikipedia: After being killed in Daredevil, Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner) is revived by a blind martial arts master called Stick (Terence Stamp). She is brought to his training compound to learn Kimagure, an ancient martial arts discipline that provides its practitioners with precognition as well as the ability to resurrect the dead. Elektra is soon expelled because of her inability to let go of her rage. She leaves and uses her training to become a contract killer. Years later, Elektra infiltrates a heavily guarded area, kills the guards, and manages to slay her target DeMarco (Jason Isaacs). Elektra’s agent, McCabe (Colin Cunningham), receives an unusually large offer from an anonymous client wishing to hire Elektra’s services. The only stipulation: she must spend a few days in a rented home on the island where the assassination is to be performed before the names of the targets are revealed. During the wait, Elektra meets a girl, Abby (Kirsten Prout), who tried to swipe Elektra’s necklace and Elektra sends her away. Elektra also meets, and befriends, Abby’s father Mark Miller (Goran Visnjic). Later, Elektra learns that Mark and Abby are the targets she has been hired to kill. Elektra spares them and leaves, but later returns to protect them from assassins sent by The Hand, a crime syndicate of ninja mercenaries.
I thought Jennifer Garner’s Elektra was one of the better parts of Ben Affleck’s Daredevil, even though she was horribly underused and felt more like a walking, talking prop than an actual character. Like most, I was excited to see her given her own feature, although tempered by the fact that it was a spin-off and thus, the narrative would follow the set-up and tone from the Daredevil film. Directed by Star Trek: TNG producer Rob Bowman, who also gave us massive blockbusters like the first X-Files movie, and the dire Christian Bale dragon film, Reign of Fire (I watched that recently, and it has not held up well), Elektra is a problematic feature film that cannot escape its inadequate direction, nor its inherently inane scripting. Whether it’s a horrible film overall, however, is probably a point for the fanboys to continue arguing about.
As a character, Elektra’s parental issues and tragic childhood fascinated me – her mother died when she was a child, and her father (here played as a younger man by Kurt Max Runte, after Erick Avari essayed the role in Daredevil) was hellbent on preparing his daughter for a life of punishing lessons – the main one depicted here being forcing the girl to tread water using only her legs for minutes, perhaps hours, at a time. Obviously, anybody who becomes an assassin has a few personal issues, and where I thought Elektra might have given us something more than we saw in Daredevil, Rob Bowman and his team completely drop the ball. Elektra becomes just another “tortured soul”, a character borne of some personal tragedy that fails utterly to register as anything but simplistic genre cliche; Bowman’s flash-bang editing style during moments of great import leave Elektra’s back-story (told in flashback, of course) as hollow, empty scenes that audiences will understand but not empathize with.
The film also diverts into X-Men territory by bringing in some new, powerful Bad Guys. While Elektra’s only “powers” are the ability to kick ass and see slightly into the immediate future, the Bad Guy team is blessed with a slew of faceless characters with a variety of deadly gifts; one, Typhoid, has the ability to kill anything she touches just by…. er, touching them, while Tattoo can bring his artistic body coverings to life to do his bidding, with wolves, birds and snakes all appearing throughout the movie. Newbies to Elektra’s world will probably find this “mutant” plot point a little out of left field, especially when you consider that Daredevil has a mutant count of zero, so watching all these cold-eyed killers unleash their powers upon the film feels underdeveloped, and frankly a little silly.
The central plot, in which The Hand tries to locate The Treasure, rankles the nose with its simplistic, trite plotting. I guess it’s a pure comic book story, but it’s grossly mishandled by Rob Bowman, who cannot seem to give the film any serious character momentum; the film’s fast paced allure is derived primarily from Elektra and everyone else doing a lot of running around, fighting and screaming, and very little time is given to making sure the characters feel real or believeable within the world of the film. While the opening credits to the film seem to point to Elektra herself being the treasure, it soon becomes apparent that it’s Abby who is this film’s Chosen One, although her transition from sulky teen rebel to kick-ass wannabe assassin is also badly handled and poorly developed.
That’s not to say the cast are bad in and of themselves; Garner, as Elektra, does a solid job in providing her character with the same rough toughness we saw in Daredevil, while co-stars Goran Visnjic, as Mark, and Kirsten Prout, as Abby, provide a pleasant father/daughter relationship that contrasts well with Elektra’s “Lone Guman” personality. McCabe is brought to life by a terrific Colin Cunningham, who flirts between being this film’s comic relief and almost a brother-figure to Elektra herself. Leading the Bad Guys is Will Yun Lee, as Kirigi, an up-and-coming player with The Hand, who hunts down Abby with precision and an almost arrogant demeanor at his own ability. Lee is menacing, yet as with all the characters in this film, grossly underdeveloped, under-explained, and lacking in motivation.
Elektra is a film built on almost no momentum other than to get Garner into the iconic red outfit worn by her comic book counterpart. As a character, the film offers marginal insight into her psyche (something almost every other Comic Book Movie gets right) and tries to juggle one too many balls in the air with regards to her back-story and origins. Rob Bowman’s direction ranges from skilful during some of the action scenes (although they do become over-edited late in the piece), to outright boring during some of the dramatic moments. The characters fall flat on the screen, with a general feeling of disinterest by almost everyone involved (Terence Stamp, playing a blind sensai to Garner’s Elektra, is the most egregious example of somebody just showing up to collect a paycheck!) brings with it a sense of fatal inadequacy from which no amount of visual effects, ripping sounds design or gratuitous slo-mo of Elektra’s solid physique can be salvaged.
It’s telling that in 2005, Elektra was followed quickly by another CBM in Batman Begins, and it’s little wonder which of the pair is most fondly remembered. Bowman must have watched Batman Begins and wondered why he couldn’t have done the same to this film; Elektra is one palpitation away from being a complete emotional flat-line, and the hodge-podge action scenes offer only minor respite between dull moments of inadequate storytelling. Elektra isn’t a complete disaster, but by golly it’s not far off.