Posted: Monday, January 17, 2005


  Jennifer Garner as Elektra in 20th Century Fox's Elektra - 2005 Rated: PG-13 Photo Copyright 20th Century F

Jennifer Garner as Elektra in 20th Century Fox's Elektra - 2005

Rated: PG-13

Photo Copyright 20th Century F

Jennifer Garner, best known as a super-spy on TV's Alias, has quite a knack for stunt work and highly physical action scenes. She can jump, kick, and punch with the best of them, handy talents when you work for the CIA or, as in the case of her current outing Elektra, when you're the world's deadliest assassin. Unfortunately, the stakes for action films has been raised since the days of Rambo, and we now expect our leads to actually act convincingly as well, a talent Garner seems to be woefully lacking.

Elektra, who you might remember was killed at the end of Daredevil, begins the film at the height of her reign as the planet's top killer-for-hire. However, when she takes what she believes to be a routine contract, things start to get complicated in a hurry. The target is a thirteen-year-old girl and her father, and when our hero becomes emotionally involved with the pair, fulfillment of the contract becomes impossible. Instead, she elects to try to protect them against a shadowy group of evil warriors bent on either recruiting the girl, or destroying her. Along the way, we discover that Elektra, already a gifted assassin, was brought back to life after her unfortunate demise by a blind martial arts master who trains her to use her head as well as her fists. Daredevil, if you'll recall, was also blind. I don't know what it is that attracts this girl to the sight-impaired, but Ronnie Milsap better watch out.

The story for this spin-off series hopeful is passable, and the special effects and fight sequences are certainly more than adequate, but, as is the case with most comic book films these days, Elektra poses itself to be a thoughtful, contemplative action film, with lots of soul searching and emoting and discussions on the symbiotic relationship between power and responsibility; mind and body. All of this requires an actress willing to dig deep, and what I saw most from Garner was a kind of puckered pout. When the character is thoughtful, she plays peeved. When the character is emotionally drained, she plays petulant. When the character is tormented by painful, fragmented half-memories of a childhood spent under the tyrannical tutelage of a driven father, she plays confused and peeved. Viewers, comic fans and the uninitiated alike, are trained to now take these films seriously. Garner is comely and a talented butt-kicker, but she has some work to do before being considered a serious actress.

Marvel Comics, on the other hand, has proven itself beyond any doubt that it is a serious player on the Hollywood scene. Gone are the days of the Golan-Globus Captain America, the cheesy 70's Spidey TV movies, and the fun, but Campy Incredible Hulk with Lou Ferrigno as the perpetually perturbed behemoth. Since the triumphant release of Spider-Man, Marvel has been on a roll, creatively and financially. Each outing has been greeted with at least polite applause, and often with outright peals of delight. The X-Men and Spider-Man series have been huge successes, and while Daredevil, The Hulk, and The Punisher may not be breaking any records, each was a thoughtful and well-built adaptation of a beloved comic book character. Even the Blade movies are popular, and they star Wesley Snipes who couldn't be more washed up if he tried. I suppose the underlying theme here is respect - both for the subject matter and for the fans who grew up with it. Comic books are no longer considered jokes or kid's stuff. They are a serious literary art form and are receiving the same sort of treatment previously reserved for the more weighty members of the genre.

Elektra plays right into the same line as the rest, and were it not for the sub-par acting, I might be tempted to give it a higher grade. On the other hand, success often breeds apathy, as writers get comfortable with a tried formula and a safe, tested set of plot developments. Much as it bothered me in National Treasure, the romance in this film feels forced and compulsory, as though at a set time in the story the characters are supposed to fall in love, as so they do, regardless of any previous attraction or spark. I also worry about this apathy in the upcoming Fantastic Four, a film that has great potential, but could easily flop. When it is all said and done, Elektra looks fine on the surface, and does its level best to enter a fine family of films. But below, it shows a distinct lack of the sort of acting and plot skills necessary to get the job done - not a good sign for an assassin movie in danger of being killed off at the box office. Grade: C

Elektra is rated PG-13 for scary action and violence.

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