January 13th, 2005
While it ties “The Punisher” for strangest comic book adaptation, “Elektra” is still massively fun. The story is a shambles, but Garner’s steely commitment to character, and the film’s lush, unique locations are enough to power the film into an entertaining sit.
Brought back from the dead, Elektra (Jennifer Garner) has reinvented herself as a top assassin for hire. Her latest assignment goes horribly wrong when she befriends her unknowing targets, Mark (Goran Visnjic) and his mysterious pre-teen daughter, Abby (Kirsten Prout). When a group of supernatural assassins known as “The Hand” arrive to take over Elektra’s job, she turns to her old mentor, a blind martial arts expert called Stick (Terence Stamp), for help. Reluctantly, Elektra must join the fight, using her skills to battle The Hand, and save her new friends.
Right off the bat, I’m stating: I loved “Daredevil.” The oft maligned, heavily dismissed, Ben Affleck superhero adventure film from 2003 wasn’t a triumph of the genre, but it had heart and a fierce chemistry between the two leads (something the overrated director cut of the film tried to stamp out). Because, for some reason, the world is in state of needless Affleck bashing, the producers have decided to let Elektra Natchios try out an adventure all on her own.
The production modifications for “Elektra” are recognized right away. Gone are the cold cityscapes of Mark Steven Johnson’s original film; the concrete jungle where Elektra originally met her fate on a lonely rooftop. Director Rob Bowman (“X-Files: Fight the Future,” “Reign of Fire”) and the screenwriters have switched locations to the woodsy northwest, overflowing with lakes and lush green forests. The change is good for the character and the weary eyes of audience members sick to death of New York City as a backdrop to superhero happenings. Bowman gives “Elektra” a uniquely moody, earthy, shadowy feel, which helps to swallow the often bizarre supernatural elements of the story (one member of The Hand is covered with tattoos that come alive and kill), and amps the action sequences by presenting them in unusual places and in unusual ways. Visually, this is solid work from Bowman and cinematographer Bill Roe.
Unfortunately, the script isn’t nearly as convincing. “Elektra” is weighed down by a tale that reaches so far into mystical backstory that it often confuses itself, and the momentum is quickly shut down. Bowman doesn’t have much interest in explaining The Hand, or Stick, or really anything about this tale; he loves his visuals, and that’s about all he’s willing to commit to. Even by comic book standards, there’s a lot of plot to swallow, and the biggest crime committed in “Elektra” is that there is never a chance to sit down and sort it all out. Suffering greatly are the villains, who have interesting powers (Typhoid Mary, with her lethal kisses, steals the film), but they’re only in this for a blink of an eye. The vagueness of the picture also renders the most obnoxious admission, a love story between Elektra and Mark, confusing and awkwardly staged. Much like “Daredevil,” it seems fairly obvious that the film was cut down severely for time, just waiting for an inevitable DVD restoration.
Returning to what has becoming an iconic role for her, Jennifer Garner picks up her sais and is ready to kick ass in her own spin-off film. While handed some goofy character traits (Elektra has OCD? Red spandex?), Garner still manages to make the character count in the genuine threat department, and retain her blossoming charisma (enchantingly employed in last year’s “13 Going On 30”) in the process. “Elektra” is more of a physical workout for Garner than an acting exercise, but the character fits with the actress’s tightly honed sense of silent fury, and she survives the insanity that often surrounds her. While not quite the breakout film it should’ve been, “Elektra” succeeds because of Garner’s dedication to the character, and her willingness to go along with some rather outlandish ideas for a comic book adventure.
My rating: B