Elektra

Cast:
Jennifer Garner as Elektra
Goran Visnjic as Mark Miller
Kirsten Prout as Abby Miller
Will Yun Lee as Kirigi
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Roshi
Terence Stamp as Stick
Natassia Malthe as Typhoid
Bob Sapp as Stone
Chris Ackerman as Tattoo
Colin Cunningham as McCabe
Hiro Kanagawa as Meizumi
Mark Houghton as Bauer
Kurt Max Runte as Nikolas Natchios
Nathaniel Arcand as Hand Ninja #1
Aaron Au as Hand Ninja #2

Summary:
Another silly and predictable comic book movie that is only saved by the stylish martial arts, the cool use of CGI, and the fact that Garner is actually quite likeable as Elektra. It will probably be too slow for most action fans, although it does try hard to stand apart from other recent comic book movies.

Story:
Elektra (Jennifer Garner) has been revived after her near-death experience at the hands of Bullseye (in the 2003 Daredevil movie). Now employed as an assassin, her latest assignment is to kill a man and his teen daughter (Goran Visnjic and Kirsten Prout) who are on the run from a secret past. Instead, Elektra befriends them and decides to protect them from the ninja assassins of the Hand.

What Worked:
Long time comic fans will be well aware of Elektra and her rich history as created by Frank Miller during his run on Daredevil in the ’80s. They may want to forget everything they know and put expectations aside, as this new movie is a completely different animal from the Daredevil movie from which the character has been spun-off.

Of course, there are the usual comic book fight sequences that you would expect, and this movie could have easily been non-stop martial arts, but instead, director Rob “The X-Files” Bowman takes a few tricks from his television background, creating a more character-driven film that tries hard to get to the core of Miller’s rich, complex characters using dialogue and flashback sequences showing things like the death of her mother.

I never thought much of Garner as Elektra in the Daredevil movie, but you have to admit that she is able to make this uncompromising killer somewhat likeable, and let’s face it, she’s not so bad to look at either, especially as she returns to Elektra’s traditional red costume. Anyone who can’t appreciate the character-driven story should at least be able to enjoy the leather-clad Garner strut her stuff.

At the center of the story is the relationship between Elektra and the 13-year-old Abby Miller, a girl with a secret that won’t be spoiled here. She is a great sounding board for Elektra, who sees a lot of her younger self in the teen, and once you get past the rather girlie dialogue between them, you might be able to get into the attempt to get deeper into this character than other comic book movies. Because of this, it seems like a movie that younger teen girls would enjoy, not only because Garner’s Elektra is such a great role model, but also because of her romance with Abby’s dad, played by Goran Visnjic. Of course, this stuff is also going to make most male comic fans cringe and bore anyone wanting to see more action.

At least Elektra tries to avoid recent comic book movie clichés, the worst being the de rigueur techno-rock soundtrack that made Daredevil so lame. (There’s only one of those moments but it goes by pretty fast.) This is a far more stylish film, as well, owing more to Asian films like Hero than American knock-offs like The Matrix. Bowman and cinematographer Bill Roe were clearly inspired by the look of Zhang Yimou and Christopher Doyle’s visuals, as the entire film is beautifully shot and they try to make the fight scenes more visual by adding similar elements. Just the fact that the movie is mainly set outdoors gives the movie a distinctive look from the normal grimy city streets that have been used in far too many comic book movies.

The CGI effects are very impressive, especially watching creatures emerge from the tattooed body of the Hand assassin called-what else? -Tattoo. Even though this idea may seem silly on paper, it’s handled in a very cool way that allows the computer graphics to seamlessly mix with the live action bringing all sorts of creatures to life.

Although martial artist Will Yun Lee’s bad guy Kirigi is pretty standard stuff, the other Hand villains are pretty cool, especially Typhoid and Stone, both characters from the “Daredevil” comics. The two scenes where Elektra fights these Hand assassins are the action highlights of the movie, although sadly, they’re killed off way too effortlessly.

What Didn’t Work:
The plot is pretty ridiculous and full of clichés, which is annoying, because for whatever reason, Hollywood continues to try to marginalize comic book characters by making it all a cut and dry battle between ultimate good and evil. It’s like producers feel the need to dumb down every comic book movie because they think that people who read comic books don’t like being challenged, but nothing can be further from the truth. The reason why Miller’s original stories were so beloved were that they were intelligent and well crafted. Elektra isn’t. Like The Hulk, it tries to be artsy and more dramatic, but it also takes itself way too seriously.

From the very beginning where Elektra is seen offing the target of her latest hit and his disposable henchmen, the plot is so obvious that it allows anyone with half a brain to find holes in it. It doesn’t get much better with the main story in which Elektra is hired to kill the father and daughter she just met, because it’s the type of storytelling that one might expect in an hour-long television drama (as opposed to the bad Hollywood storytelling that moviegoers are accustomed to). The relationship between Elektra, Abby and her father is what makes this movie so unique, but it also makes the middle part of the movie a bit tedious. After they’re introduced, all action is set aside in favor of dialogue and character development that would probably feel more at home if they were recurring characters on a WB series, and it’s not until the Hand comes into the picture where you feel you’re watching a movie again.

Overall, the writing is weak from the film’s opening narrative to the lame comic book dialogue between Elektra and others. While stuff like this is often fine in comic books, there are very few actors who can pull this off without sounding silly. With that in mind, the talents of actor Terrence Stamp are wasted as Stick. He’s a great actor and he does the best he can, but it’s a small role that doesn’t do much for the story, and his speeches as her mentor are often groan-worthy.

Likewise, Will Yun Lee’s character is such a by-the-books martial arts villain that he never seems like much of a threat. Trying to tie him into Elektra’s past just makes it that much easier to find holes in the preposterous plot.

Elektra’s powers, which seem new to the character for this movie, are pretty unclear and are never explained. She obviously has the ability to see things, but who knows whether she’s seeing the future, the past or something else altogether. The movie also overuses Elektra’s nightmarish flashbacks as a plot device to create inner conflict in the character; they might have worked if you had any idea what you’re watching from one minute to the next.

While the action is shot well, there just doesn’t seem to be very much of it, and though the martial arts are well choreographed, the wirework isn’t nearly as good as the Asian movies it’s emulating.

The name of Visnjic’s character, Mark Miller, besides being boring and unoriginal is a slap in the face to Elektra creator Frank Miller, whose name you’ll only see if you stay until the very end of the end credits.

The Bottom Line:
While Elektra doesn’t reinvent the genre, it’s more like “Smallville” compared to Richard Donner’s Superman. Anyone expecting another Spider-Man is just going to be disappointed by the lack of action, although it does get points for trying to develop the lead character despite a rather lame overall plot.

Elektra opens everywhere on Friday.

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