Directed by Rob Bowman
Rob Bowman completely abandoned some wonderful source material in making this screen version of Elektra. Frank Miller’s comic book series Elektra: Assassin and The Elektra Saga were published in the mid-1980s. Miller’s Electra was a cold-blooded killer who got that way after being held against her will, broken down with torture, and trained by her captors to do their bidding as an assassin. She escapes and slowly begins to mend her ways, with the help of Matt Murdoch. The essence of the character is her partial redemption into a more compassionate human – and she can revert to her brutal self if provoked. Almost twenty years later, Miller’s character stands out as innovative and edgy.
To make a film true to the source material, two conditions – both probably deal-killers to movie execs – would have to be met: (a) the film is violent, R-rated, hard-action (lots of Asian-style sword-play); (b) while the viewer develops sympathy for this darker Elektra, she’s never fully redeemed as a kind, caring, socially-acceptable person. Elektra would have trouble passing in a mild-mannered alter-ego – the brain damage is only partially reversible. You wouldn’t ask Miller’s Electra to Christmas dinner – too dangerous. I believe that if they had had the courage to make a movie true to Miller’s character, it would have generated huge buzz among the hard-core fans and, with that, big box office. The movie Rob Bowman made betrays the core constituency of comic-based movies -- comic fans -- and it deserves all the bad press it’s getting as a result.
OK – given that they had to tone it down with only PG-13 action and a warm and fuzzy Electra, they still fell short in several ways. The worst thing that can happen in any action movie is to be laughed at – when a scene meant to be compelling in a scary way ends up funny in a campy way. That’s what happens in Elektra with the young protégé character (Abby played by Kirsten Prout) that was clumsily inserted in an apparent attempt to gain favor with the “tween” female demographic. Abby is supposed to have special martial-arts powers that the bad guys covet, so Electra has to protect her while romancing her dad (Goran Visnjic.) The action scenes with little “Elektra-Lite” are embarrassingly bad – she swings a little gold chain around – so scary! A huge disaster as an action character, Abby’s scenes bonding with Electra worked fairly well as long as you accept the premise that the character belongs in an Electra movie in the first place.
The bad guys chasing precious little Abby consists of a poorly-developed, motley crew called The Hand. Very little was done to describe who they are – just that each has some special power – the only one that was remotely interesting was the tattoo man whose animal tattoos come to life to do his bidding. All of their dialog seemed stilted and forced – I have a hunch that more scenes with them were shot but cut to avoid even more camp ending up on the big screen. Uninteresting, campy villains – a common shortfall in the action genre.
Given that this reinvented Elektra character has to be likable, the film inexplicably has her carrying out some contract killings in the first few minutes. There is no credible explanation for that – the behavior is totally out of character for the Elektra that we know for 95% of the film. I guess the idea was to establish how tough and scary she can be, but the hired-killer doesn’t square at all with the sweet and kind Elektra that bonds with Abby. And then there’s the costume Elektra wears to her big showdown with the head bad guy – and we’re supposed to believe that everything is hinging on the outcome of this fight – she wears red leather pants and a matching red leather bustier – great for going out clubbing, silly for combat. Jennifer Garner does look good – but it only adds to the overall campy feel of Elektra. I understand that they hire martial arts consultants for these movies – couldn’t they have told somebody that the hilt on a sword or dagger is designed to protect the hand and that if you put your fingers on the wrong side of the hilt, you defeat that feature of the weapon. Those are just a couple of examples of how the filmmakers blew it in this clumsy attempt at a martial arts film.
Given the PG-13 movie that they were making, Jennifer Garner did reasonably well as Elektra – at least her dialog never made me laugh. Her fight sequences were edited so that the viewer doesn’t actually see much of the motion of the players – they suggest action via choppy editing – a common complaint I have with most action movies these days.
Whatever you do don’t do what I did. I saw the spectacular House of Flying Daggers on one night then Elektra on the next night. Every single fight sequence in Daggers so superior to the best of Elektra -- it’s sad -- pathetic. I feel bad that Frank Miller’s great writing had been betrayed.
Photographs are copyright 20th Century Fox.
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