A film review by Craig J. Koban

ELEKTRA jj
Ĺ 

2005, PG-13, 97 mins.

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

Directed by Rob Bowman / Written by Zak Penn, Stuart Zicherman and Raven Metzner

Consider, if you will, the modern sexual hypocrisy and double standard of the comic book super hero.  If you will permit me to explain, then I will strongly believe thatíll you find the new super hero picture, ELEKTRA, much more palatable. 

Some people that I know have said that they would not want to fork over ten bucks of their hard earned money to see an exploitative film that seems more concerned with showing off the main characterís assets (in this case, Jennifer Garner, and she definitely has some) then with anything else of value. 

This, in my belief, underlines the double standard of the laypersonís view of comic book heroes.  For some reason, when a gorgeous woman thatís absolutely wonderful to look at wears tights and a revealing costume, itís sexually repressive in some sort of vile way.  Funny, but no one ever, ever says that about other comic book heroes that are male.  Superman, on a pure cosmetics level, is really a hunky man with a perfect body that parades around in tights and saves the world.  On a more primal level, Conan The Barbarian is a big, beefy Adonis-figure that runs around, half naked in a loin cloth, and dispatches with evildoers.  When a handsome and well-endowed male in a comic book universe saves innocents and protects the world, its okay; when itís a luminous and shapely female, itís a damnable offence of all womankind.   Excuse me?  If men can engage in a carnival of exploiting their bodies while saving the world and remain unscathed by societal criticism, then why canít women?   

This assertion, in turn, can be used to help diffuse some of the criticism of the new Marvel Comics adaptation of ELEKTRA.  Firstly, and on the most positive levels, the film has Jennifer Garner as its star, whose appearance alone in the film should deflect most overt criticism.  Yes, anyone that knows me even remotely is aware of my fondness for this actress.  She stars in the most criminally underrated TV show of recent memory, ALIAS, a program that does show off her physical goods, to be sure, but it also displays her as a young actress of incredible promise and range.  Garner also starred in last yearís 13 GOING ON 30, and enormously derivative film that was silly and trivial at best, but undeniably never boring because of her luminosity, overt cuteness, charisma and appeal. 

Garner did already play ELEKTRA in 2003ís DAREDEVIL, another Marvel super hero film about the blind vigilante where she played his love interest that was ever so deadly with a pair of sais.  Now she comes full circle reprising her role in ELEKTRA, and after watching it it's clear that she carries the film on all levels.  Yes, Elektra  is beautiful.  Yes, she wears skimpy outfits while she picks off bad guys one by one.  Yet, there are dimensions to the character that are easily overlooked when we become too distracted by her looks.  Garner and her portrayal of the tragic hero are the very best things about ELEKTRA.  Her good performance makes the film work, itís just a shame that her incredible appealing and attractive presence could not have been in a better story populated by more intriguing characters.  I loved looking at Elektra and found her, as a character, captivating, but the narrative sheís involved in is a real bore. 

Elektra, as a character, has always been a well-realized and drawn out character in the comics (which I have been exposed to, much more than the average critic that has been writing about the film adaptation).  In DAREDEVIL Garner got the feel of the character just right and played the role on a definitive note of quite and poetic tragedy.  Elektra was one of those fringe figures, an outsider that is kind of a sad persona.  She is beautiful, attractive and is capable of having any man she wants and a life of happiness, but her own inner desires for revenge repeal any notions of happiness she may want.  This is especially sad, considering that she had several tender and sensitive moments in the film with Matt (Daredevil) Murdock (one moment in the rain on a rooftop comes to mind), but when events spiral out of control, so does she.  Elektra, at the risk of spoiling DAREDEVIL for the uninitiated, died at the end of that film.  Ah, but with all great comic stories, people are never really dead now, are they? 

ELEKTRA kind of takes place shortly after the events of DAREDEVIL, but I would not really label it as a direct sequel to the film, considering that not one mention of Daredevil or any of the major events or other characters are made in the film.  Actually, ELEKTRA seems to occupy a much more fantastical plane of existence from the gritty film noir world of Matt Murdockís Hellís Kitchen.  How metaphysical and odd, you ask?  Well, letís just say that itís a universe where ninjas evaporate into green gas when you kill them, assassins can kill you with a kiss, and werewolves and eagles can materialize out of a manís chest tattoos, but I digress. 

ELEKTRA goes so deep into its metaphysical roots that even the brief epilogue explaining its back story seems high on the Yoda-esque manner of speaking in odd and backwards metaphors.   The narrative establishes that there has been an endless battle between good and evil (wow, thatís  stretch) and that a ďchosen oneĒ (paging Neo!) has been born, but both sides want her (hmmmmÖthey should have called it the Luke Skywalker prophesy).  The Hand are the bad guys, a bunch a poorly developed and realized characters that seem mostly Japanese, but who all have the kind of super human powers that seems more passable in a Mortal Kombat video game.  The good guys are represented by the wise old sage (there is always one in the battle of good vs. evil) by Stick (Terrance Stamp, always fun to watch and never dull).  His reluctant pupil, we find out, was Elektra, and in flashback she sure is good with her fists and feet.  Ah, but in all master and apprentice dynamics, Elektraís training is not complete without a final test, but Elektra leaves the good guys in disgust because she is impatient. 

Okay, Elektra did die in DAREDEVIL, but death is never really all that final in comic books.  Apparently, and most conveniently, Stick has been able to master the ability to alter time (or maybe its manipulate it, I dunno) and is able to revive Elektra shortly after her ďdeathĒ.  She does start a second life as an apprentice, but later leaves.  Now, conventional wisdom would dictate that she would have sought out Matt Murdock, seeing as she loved him and prophesied returning to him.  Yet, she seems to have forgotten all about him in this film and instead becomes an assassin for hire, who even has her very own wise talking agent!  While not killing people for money (as she does so very effectively in a great action scene in the opening of the film) she battles her own Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Her and Howard Hughes would have got along famously. 

As the filmís plot starts to open up, Elektra is offered $2 million by an unknown bidder for her next ďtargetĒ.  The stipulation of the assignment is that she shows up at a beautiful lakeside retreat two days early and waits for the Intel.  Things kind of go quietly for Elektra until she stumbles on two neighbours that live nearby.  One is a young girl named Abby (Kirsten Prout) and her father Mark (ERís Goran Visnjic), the type of man next-door secondary character that is only really developed to the point of providing one dimensional love interest for Elektra.  However, for reasons that will remain undisclosed by me, The Hand has had a secret meeting (in a board room at some Corporate high rise, youíd think that a secret order would have a more secret  hideout) and discloses how they seek out the ambiguously named "Treasure".  Well, it seems that ďThe TreasureĒ and the young girl and her father are linked in some way, which means that Elektra will have to facilitate her role as the hero and protect these hapless people from the evil Hand.  But, are Mark and his daughter that helpless?  

A squad of assassins are sent out for Elektra and the family.  One is a young Japanese man with long swords and speaks in ten cent valued metaphysical garbly-gook, and the others have names like Typho, Tatoo, and Stone, all with their very own unique abilities, those primarily to look evil, show off they unique powers, and then die relatively easily at the hands of Elektra and then turn into a poof of green smoke.  The bad guys are not really all that interesting in the film, and as they are picked off one by one so expeditiously that there does not seem to be not much dramatic tension in their hunting of Elektra and the family.  There is no real explanation as to why they have powers, where they got them from, or why they turn into green gas.  Maybe it's to secure the filmís more audience friendly PG-13 rating, where a normal blood ní guts demise would not be appropriate.  The individual fight scenes are also a mixed bag, some are exciting and interesting (especially one involving a lot of white sheets) but others are cut so fast and frantically thatís its impossible to make out the action.  Much like 2004ís THE BOURNE SUPREMACY, ELEKTRA, at least to a lesser degree, suffers from hyperactivity in its fight scenes.  Less, sometimes, is more. 

The only thing to really admire in the film is Garner herself, and she is very equal to the task of remaining faithful to the comic character by fleshing her out and making her resonate with a moderate amount of weight.  The film, very surprisingly, is less bogged down by action and instead focuses a refreshing amount of time on Elektraís character.  The film is less concerned with showing off Elektraís body in battle and more with trying to explain her motivations.  We get small flashbacks with a domineering father, which may go a long way to explaining her OCD.  Garner plays the role with her undeniable physical allure, but she also does what she can to make her breathe life as a tragic figure as well.  Garner is one of those rare actresses that can find the right healthy balance between overt sex appeal and earnest sensitivity in their performances.  Sheís a wonderful sight to behold, but she also is good in the quieter, more introspective moments.  Itís just too bad that as good as she is in the film that the supporting characters are ill defined and the story just does not maintain much audience concern.  Much like 13 GOING ON 30, we love Garner in the lead role, but do not invest in the story. 

ELEKTRA  is a film that has been uniformly trashed by much of the nationís critics, and thatís a bit unfair.  Itís not the raging train wreck that everyone is leading you to believe it is.  The film is a bit smarter with its lead female character than a handful of lesser comic book films (ahem, CATWOMAN), and Garner is universally solid as an anti-hero who has turned herself off from the outside world.  The real test of comic book films is with the antagonists, and ELEKTRA just does not have any exciting or scary ones to instill any sense of dread in us.  Maybe if the screenplay focused as much attention on the story and villains as they did with the lead character, then maybe weíd have a narrative with much vigor.  ELEKTRA is, at times, well acted and slickly directed (It's done with a reasonable amount of style and polish by Rob Bowman, who made the X-FILES movie), but it is largely a forgettable outing in the super hero genre.  Oh, and by the way, there is absolutely nothing wrong with watching Garner run around in form-fitting fetish-tights and ridding the world of evil.  If it works for Daredevil, why should it be shunned for Elektra?

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