Elektra

Talk to the hand
Released:
2005

Director: Rob Bowman

Starring: Jennifer Garner, Goran Visnjic, Kirsten Prout, Terence Stamp

The Setup:

Female superhero franchise starter / ender.

Discussion:

So cast your mind back to the time after the Sam Raimi Spider-Man but before the Christopher Nolan Batman, where everyone had to pump out superhero movies (although they hadn't yet become Hollywood's entire reason for being), but not everyone was all that worried about them being any GOOD. In this period you had Ben Affleck's Daredevil (this is when Affleck was trying to float it as an actor as well) and at the time he was dating Jennifer Garner, and she appeared in his film as Elektra. And they thought OF COURSE Daredevil will be a hit, so it's just common sense to spin off an Elektra movie, right? Then Daredevil tanked, and thus this movie was all but torpedoed before it was even released. The promotional budget for this dropped precipitously and it was apologetically thrown out there, receiving horrible reviews and gaining a reputation as one of the absolute worst superhero movies. It must be such a bitter experience to spend so long making a film, then have it aborted before its even released for reasons entirely out of one's control.

So the whole reason I watched this is because of this reputation as such a horrible film and, surprise, there's not much really wrong with it. There's not too much right with it, either, but it didn't deserve the fate it received, and Daredevil, which I had the misfortune of seeing at the theater, is by far the worse film. We open with some cartoon explaining that there's good and evil, and evil is wrapped up in an organization called "the hand," as in "talk to the hand," and good follows the way of Timiguri (or whatever) and can both see the future and bring people back from the dead and... can you name two things you'll see in the following film? They are both pursuing "the treasure" with is a girl that can kick ass and will be a powerful weapon for either side. Anyway, there's a prologue where a guy knows that Elektra is coming to kill him, which she does. Then she goes home and meets her agent. McCabe, who has set her up with another job. It would hap that she is a trained assassin. By now you've seen enough to say "Good lord, what a shame that such gorgeous cinematography is being wasted on this piece of shit film!"

So it would seem that Elektra was training to be a ninja when her sensei, played by Terrence Stamp, kicked her out of the program, causing Elektra to make several unbecoming sobby faces I consider to be a bit immature for a ninja. Maybe that's why she's getting the boot? I think they look for a little more Zen detachment. By the way, I guess this is the super bourgeois whites-only ninja training camp? Like, on the Upper West Side or Northern California? "Can your child get into the prep school of their choice without being a ninja?" Seriously--it'll be next. Anyway, Elektra has to go home and pack for her trip out west for... why? And we have an unintentionally hilarious sequence where she's laying out all her Rite Aid purchases with precision while the soundtrack plays hot ninja practice music, as might accompany her breaking into a top secret bank or something. And seriously: RITE AID? This movie is sponsored by RITE AID. You know, it's not just what your movie can do for their products, it's what their products can do for your movie, and I really don't think you want Elektra to be associated with Rite Aid. Like do you REALLY want me picturing Elektra looking though the digestive care aisle? Do you REALLY want me picturing Elektra rinsing with the Rite Aid-brand generic mouthwash (shown)? You know, I really don't think you do.

So she decamps to this amazing lakefront house in the Pacific Northwest. She returns from being out one day to find her spidey senses tingling that someone's in the house. There is, and a quick whip of the knife pins said intruder to the wall, whereupon we find it's a spunky 13 year old girl, Abby, who thinks Elektra is keen and is rather unrepentant about her breaking and entering habit. Then YOUR cliche senses will be tingling as you say "Oh no, I bet Elektra is going to start taking a protective role to this girl while also training her on self esteem and surely here's a missing mother in here somewhere." Plus, you've surely realized by now that female heroes can't just have missions, like men, but must always be taking protective, maternal roles to children. The girl also has a hunky single father, Mark, and dead mother, just as predicted. Surely Elektra also has a dead mother complex, to allow them to bond? How right you are, and we're starting to have flashbacks to her trauma of coming into mom's room and finding her stabbed by what initially appears to be Satan. Would have been cool if it had stayed Satan.

Around now you might be saying to yourself "Gee, it's been 28 minutes and NOTHING has happened," but, if you've ever read a screenwriting manual, you know we need only wait another two for an event that will set the plot in motion. It comes right on schedule as Elektra finds out her assassination targets are: Mark and that adorable Abby! I'm sure you never could have seen that coming. She sets up her high-powered archery set and aims at their heads--but can't do it! So she calls McCabe and tells her the deal is off. He tells her they'll just send someone else. Meanwhile, in Japan or China or somewhere Asian, this group of high-powered, umm, Asians, appoint a ninja task force to come snuff Mark and Abby. Elektra knows whuss'up and stops over just in time to kick ninja ass and protect the two. Here we discover that ninjas, when killed, evaporate into plumes of green smoke. The trio escape.

SPOILERS > > >
Now, Mark is rather tight-lipped about why these people want to kill them, and Elektra is rather cool about risking her life without knowing why. You might have surmised that little Abby is 'the treasure,' i.e. the kiddie badass mentioned at the beginning. Back in Asia, the boss' son brings in a multi-ethnic coalition of badass ninjas, including a black, a Hispanic, a woman and a white guy (the son takes the Asian slot) proving that even among secretive international assassins, diversity is respected. One of them has animal tattoos that crawl out of his body as actual animals, and he sends a bird to spy on our trio. They decamp to McCabe's, the classic remote country house, and he is initially reluctant to shelter them, then, moments later, happy to sacrifice his own life so that they may escape. This leads to a big battle in the forest, during which it is revealed that Abby is indeed a kiddie badass who wields a power bracelet, which shocks Elektra until she is brought near death by this ninja lady with the same life-sucking power as Anna Paquin in X-Men. It's looking like curtains for our intrepid trio when--

Terrence Stamp shows up! With his white ninja army. It's so convenient for ninjas to color code themselves. They vanquish the baddies, for now, and Stamp brings Elektra bak to life, because, you know, that's one of his powers. She realizes that her finding Abby was part of his plan way back when he kicked her out of training, and feels a little miffed. They repair to his forest ninja training facility, which just happens to be nearby. Elektra heals, finds love with Mark, and continues to bond with little Abby, who has shown up with a hairstyle exactly like Elektra's, making me think this might become a little superheroine Single White Female. Abby wants to FIGHT! But Elektra tells her she must TRAIN!

Well, we're running out of time here, so Elektra arbitrarily opens a psychic IM session with the ninja baddie, and they arrange a showdown. They are to meet at Elektra's childhood mansion, which is filled with the memories of trauma, and she finally remembers that her mom wasn't killed by Satan at all, but by the lead ninja baddie! I'm a little sick of people in movies with traumatic pasts that just HAPPEN to have been caused by their current foe. The bad ninja appears wearing white (oh, guess they're not all color coded) and he causes all of the white sheets covering the furniture to fly into the air and swirl around Elektra, something that might have worked in concept, but in reality forces you to watch your heroine battling bed sheets for far longer than acceptable. Then: Abby shows! She wants to take this ninja down herself. But--she's not ready! And somehow they end up out back in the hedge maze with all the other assassins there, too.

Battle, battle, blah, blah, with the other ninjas dispatched and Elektra, after a protracted battle, suddenly and rather arbitrarily killing the lead ninja. Meanwhile, Abby is getting her life force sucked by the lady ninja, and DIES! But fear not, because Elektra, if she achieves the final level of her training, can bring things back to life, right? It seems convenient to revive the little tyke right there, but if we were to bring her into Elektra's mother's bedroom (quite out of the way) then Elektra could both achieve the final level of her training while also gaining catharsis by saving Abby in the way she was unable to save her mother! This swiftly accomplished, Elektra enrolls Abby in training and goes off to wend her lonely way, because lord, that is her lot in life.
< < < SPOILERS END

As I said, it was not nearly as bad as you have heard. Still, it should not be considered good. Let's just say it's not much worse than anything else. Jennifer Garner is not really ideally cast to start with, and she's a grim sourpuss throughout the whole thing, but especially the first half. The story is never that compelling, and is quite predictable. The villains aren't really fearsome. Elektra had too many mental traumas. The fight scenes aren't exactly electrifying. Yep, it's all pretty lame, but still, watchable, not much worse than average.

Sadly, in the last half hour, things take a precipitous drop. The climax is unmotivated, just happens. You have the unfortunate scene of Elektra battling bed linens. It gets a little better from there, but--yeah, I don't even know why I'm still writing about this movie. It's not as bad as reputed, but still not all that good, is the bottom line.

Should you watch it?

No real reason to. Even if you want to ogle Garner, she's in turtlenecks til the very end.

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