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“Sai It Ain’t So…”

True story. A friend of ours has a job as an intern in Los Angeles, and coming round the corner at work one day, he literally bumped into Jennifer Garner. He immediately started apologising profusely (he’s an uber-nice kid, who wouldn’t say “Boo!” to a fly) but she wouldn’t have any of it and began cursing him out in the nastiest of ways. Garner finally stalked off, while he continued to apologise – just before vanishing, she turned round and gave him the finger. So now we know: Jennifer Garner = bitch.

Despite this, it gives me no real pleasure to report on the failings of Elektra. It was a pleasant surprise, and says a fair bit about Daredevil, that the studio chose to pursue her character as a spinoff, rather than following up with a sequel. I hoped that they’d do a good job, capturing the dark passions and conflicts of the character, whose incarnation in works like Frank Miller’s Elektra: Assassin is truly memorable. [Interestingly, the screening was preceded by a trailer for another Miller adaptation, Sin City, which looks at least stylistically accurate] Unfortunately, what we have here is another shallow dumbing-down, offering little more than another straightforward good vs. evil battle.

The first issue is, of course, that Elektra died in Daredevil. No problem: we have a Yoda-like character, Stick (Terence Stamp), who can bring characters back from the grave. Yet this causes more problems than it solves: sure, Elektra’s back, but now, death, where is thy sting? Any threat to life is now no more inconvenient than in a video game: press X to continue. Anyway, after getting booted from Stick’s training camp in her second life, Elektra becomes a freelance assassin. However, when assigned to target a father (Visnjic, who remains miraculously just stubbly throughout) and his 13-year old daughter, Abigail (Prout), she suddenly has second thoughts.

This is kinda fortunate, since the pair turn out to be lynchpins in a battle between good (Stick and his allies) and evil. The latter are a group called The Hand, led by villain Roshi (veteran Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, from Mortal Kombat), who sends his son Kirigi (Lee) and his interesting-ability acolytes after Elektra and her wards. They can do stuff like make their tattooes come to life, kill things with a touch, or withstand shotgun blasts. Poor Elektra is just very, very good with weapons, which comes across as rather weak in comparison.

The aim is clearly to put Elektra across as an emotionally-scarred individual, who connects with Abigail, seeing herself in the teenager, and has enough baggage for an entire convention of shrinks. However, all we get in terms of her psychology are some clumsy flashbacks and a touch of pointless OCD which feels like it strayed in from Monk. Even after her agent (Colin Cunningham) both offers the trio shelter, then bravely stays behind to give them time to escape, his sacrifices don’t merit the slightest subsequent mention. Superheroes: they’re just so damn ungrateful.

There is entertainment, mostly lurking in the background. A moment with impact sees Typhoid (Natassia Malthe), the girl with the poison touch, kiss Elektra; the pair fall to the ground surrounded by a shower of dying leaves. It feels almost like it could have been inspired by the work of Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers), and is at least less obviously stolen than the “House of Flying Bed-Sheets” battle later on. It’s also interesting to see Mark Houghton as a chief bodyguard in the opening scene: he made his debut against Yukari Oshima in The Outlaw Brothers, back in 1987.

The fight scenes are actually pretty good too, though the editing occasionally borders on the incoherent, and there just aren’t enough of them. What about Roshi? After sending out his son, he vanishes entirely from the picture, leaving the result disappointingly like a Bond film where 007 never gets to meet Blofeld, and is left dispatching minions instead. I guess they were perhaps hoping to save that confrontation for a sequel, but having just seen the first week’s box-office returns (Elektra took in several million dollars less than Catwoman), doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon.

 In terms of quality, this is probably about the same as the recent version of The Punisher, and that started from a lower point, the comics adapted there being basically a hyperviolent revenge fantasy for teenage boys. Frank Miller’s work on Elektra was truly for mature readers – in both the sense that its intricacies require a sophisticated mind to unpick, and the intense nature of its images. Instead, we get this PG-13 rated Elektra, that simply rolls out the usual comic-book cliches without sufficient enthusiasm or invention. It’s polished until the surface positively gleams, but is just a thin layer of precious gold, over a heart of basest metal.

We should have guessed: January is a bad time to release an action movie, and Garner’s absence from publicity (allegedly due to a viral infection or “nerve damage” – though that’s actually what our intern friend suffered at her hands) was another warning-sign. So was the fact Daredevil wasn’t that good. Regardless, it doesn’t bode well for a year where adaptations of comic-books come thick and fast, with February’s Constantine next. And after the failure of Catwoman, it unfortunately seems to be strike two for big-budget action heroines.

Dir: Rob Bowman
Stars: Jennifer Garner, Will Yun Lee, Kirsten Prout, Goran Visnjic

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