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Elektra   C-

20th Century Fox / Regency Enterprises

Year Released: 2005
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Rob Bowman
Writers: Zak Penn, Stu Zicherman, Raven Metzner
Cast: Jennifer Garner, Goran Visnjic, Will Yun Lee, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Terence Stamp, Kirsten Prout, Natassia Malthe, Bob Sapp.

Review by Rob Vaux

As someone who loved (not liked; loved) Daredevil, I suppose I should be kinder to Elektra. It endeavors to conjure the same comic-book grit as its predecessor while providing plenty of additional opportunities to gaze at Jennifer Garner's navel. What's not to love? But under director Rob Bowman -- a competent action man who helmed the underrated Reign of Fire -- Elektra loses every bit of the grimy fun willed to it. In its place is a dour, cheerless, and boring clunker.

Garner's incarnation is a far cry from the character originally envisioned by Frank Miller and Raven Metzner. In Daredevil, she infused the Amazonian assassin with a fair streak of Sidney Bristow, using her coquettish smile and physical charisma to make Elektra her own. This time around, however, she strips back the Alias trappings, leaving a hard, miserable edge that suits her not at all. Brought back to life following her Daredevil skewering, she's trained by the sensei-of-the-week Stick (Terence Stamp) as a part of some nebulous battle between good and evil. But soon enough, she's kicked out of his dojo for equally nebulous reasons, turning to life as a killer for hire instead.

From the get-go, the scenario has problems of logic and credulity. If Daredevil is to be believed, Elektra's a billionaire heiress whose parents are both dead. Why does she need to make money jamming sais into people's kidneys? Garner's sullen explanation ("I'm good at it") doesn't ring true -- though it might have if delivered by, say, Angela Bassett -- and the film makes no effort to develop it further. The actress is simply too likeable and cheery to sell us on such darkness, and while she handled the revenge motivation well enough in Daredevil, her material here doesn't give her any real impetus.

At least at first. The script eventually brings forth a precocious young girl (Kirsten Prout) targeted by an evil organization of ninjas know as The Hand. The maternal instincts that she arouses in Elektra (and the attendant "over my cooling carcass" protectiveness) serves as the central crux of her character -- as does the obvious romance with the girl's Hunkus Maximus father (Goran Visnjic). Only there's very little fun or excitement to it. The scenes between the three of them are purely perfunctory, holding little interest as drama or plot exposition. And with so much time spent on them, the action scenes suffer tremendously, leaving us hanging for what seems like hours between the anticipated wire-fighting mayhem.

Admittedly, when Bowman finally gets around to cutting loose, Elektra finds something resembling a pulse. Garner looks good in her bright red duds, and her physical skills are still well-honed. But even when the spin-kicks start flying, the cinematography and set design are too turgid to give us a pleasing view. The entire film is dark and smothered in shadows... and not the cool kind either. The kind that make you wonder what the hell you're supposed to be looking at. As a comic-book adaptation, it's reasonably faithful to the source, but neither does it find any real strengths there, losing the fire that made Miller's work so engaging. Colin Farrell's irresistible scenery-chewing in Daredevil is sadly absent from the turgid, poker-faced villains here, making them feel like nothing so much as bones thrown to the fanboys ("Hey, look guys, it's Typhoid Mary! Isn't she cool?!"). Without more energy invested in them, they simply can't draw us in.

In the end, however, it comes back to Garner, and how they wish to play her assets. If she's their horse, then the character needs to shift to match the persona she generates. Trying to invest Elektra with the solemnity and gravitas of her origins is the wrong approach for the actress who has since staked a claim on her, and this causes both character and performer to suffer. The film surrounding her is not interesting enough for the brooding drama it wishes to convey, and it's too dull for us to enjoy ourselves in the process. Both Garner and Elektra will likely survive, but that doesn't make it easier to watch this opportunity go to waste.

Review published 01.16.2005.

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