Jennifer Garner reprises the role of Marvel Comics’ superheroine, previously seen in Daredevil, in this spin-off film. Here Elektra is a hired assassin who turns against her employers when she’s asked to terminate a father and his young daughter. Review by Kevin O’Reilly.
If you’ve seen Daredevil, the 2003 action hit starring Ben Affleck as a blind superhero, you’ll remember Elektra. Played by Alias star Jennifer Garner, she was a beautiful, strong-willed heiress who sought revenge after her father was murdered by Colin Farrell’s maniacal Bullseye. She also had a passionate affair with Affleck but, as you’ll recall, it all ended in tears when Bullseye killed her.
Nevertheless here she is back with her own spin-off movie. Elektra gets around the minor inconvenience of its heroine being dead by having her brought back to life by Stick (Terence Stamp), a kind of mystical martial arts guru who fights evil with the help of a small private army. Stick tries to recruit Elektra but he discovers she has too much anger inside her to be part of his brotherhood. Cast out on her own, she turns to the dark side and goes into business as a professional hitwoman, her awesome skills soon commanding $2 million per job. Her latest assignment is to head for an idyllic bay in Northern California and wait for details of who she’s supposed to kill. While she waits, Elektra meets and tentatively befriends her neighbours – single father Mark Miller (Goran Visnjic) and his teenage daughter Abby (Kirsten Prout). You can guess the twist: Mark and Abby turn out to be the targets and, suffering a crisis of conscience, Elektra refuses the contract and instead helps the pair escape from the killers sent to replace her by a sinister organisation known as The Hand.
For this story to work, we’d need to believe two things: that Elektra is a ruthless assassin (her boss chastises her for killing bodyguards unnecessarily) and that she is capable of a change of heart. The first part is scuppered by the casting of apple-cheeked Jennifer Garner, who was convincing as an action heroine in Daredevil but fails to persuade us she’s a cold-blooded murderer for hire. The second part is blown by making her character a little too ruthless: asking us to wonder for a moment if maybe she will kill the 13-year-old moppet after all. There’s a thin line between making a character mean enough that changing their ways counts for something and making them so rotten that we can’t believe such a person could ever turn good. Seriously contemplating murdering a child is on the wrong side of that line.
And how exactly did Elektra go from the vengeful but basically decent character in Daredevil to the remorseless killer she is here? Did being killed by Colin Farrell poison her mind somehow? When Terence Stamp makes a surprise revelation late in the film, it doesn’t explain things, it makes them more confusing. Try and follow his logic. How did he know what Elektra would become? Did it not bother him what she was doing? How many people are dead because of the decision he made? What if she’d actually shot the girl?
Too many plot points are left unexplained. Perhaps you need to have read the Marvel comics Elektra’s based on to fully appreciate it. We learn little about The Hand, who come across as your typical SPECTRE-style master-villains conspiring around a table in their secret rooftop lair, or about Terence Stamp’s band of ninjas or whatever they are. Nor do we find out why the bad assassins disappear in puffs of green smoke when they’re killed. Nobody seems particularly surprised when they do this – I think I would be. My cynical theory is that they disappear to keep the PG-13 rating. All the neck-breaking and knife-throwing somehow seems less brutal when the victim vanishes instead of falling down in a bloody heap.
Of course the plots of superhero movies don’t really have to make sense (although Daredevil’s and Spider-man 2’s did). Mostly they exist as an excuse for spectacular superheroics. Unfortunately Elektra’s action sequences are unoriginal and, as directed by Rob Bowman who made the X-Files movie and Reign Of Fire, they’re shot in the familiar, quick-cutting Hollywood manner without style or excitement. It doesn’t help that the costumes and forest locations call to mind House Of Flying Daggers, which this is not a patch on.
As half-arsed as it is, Elektra is watchable enough for the first half, thanks largely to Jennifer Garner being engaging and easy on the eyes even when she’s as badly misused as she is here. It works for that long in a shut-your-brain-off kind of a way but the film’s shortcomings build and build and nag at you till you can ignore them no more. When the film sets up its climax by having Elektra call up the chief villain and basically tell him it’s time for the final confrontation, its chance of succeeding even as a guilty pleasure is gone.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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