Maybe the super-heroine genre is just cursed, but lightning certainly doesn’t strike with “Elektra,” a tepid, torpid comic-book movie that could accurately be described as this year’s “Catwoman.” Of course, the movie’s pedigree might have doomed it from the start. It’s a spinoff from the Ben Affleck disaster “Daredevil,” which reduced one of Marvel’s best superheroes to the status of a boring nonentity. The less than rapturous reaction to that misfire insured that it wouldn’t spawn a sequel, but Jennifer Garner’s supporting turn as the blind protagonist’s part-rival, part-romantic interest in it (as well as her cult success in ABC’s “Alias” series) apparently led to the conclusion that perhaps her character could work on its own. That proves to have been a miscalculation, not just because the narrative that’s been cobbled together by a trio of screenwriters is so redundant and predictable, but because director Rob Bowman’s approach to the material is so turgid and gloomily arty.
The scenario uses what must be the oldest cliche in super-hero-dom by having Elektra Natchios revived from the apparently fatal wounds she suffered at the hands of Bullseye in “Daredevil” by a blind martial arts expert named Stick (Terence Stamp, trying to maintain a stoic expression–a trial in view of the fortune-cookie-caliber dialogue he’s been assigned) and becoming a red-clothed master assassin in the employ of smart-alecky McCabe (annoyingly smirky Colin Cunningham, in a happily attenuated role). When she’s assigned to terminate a father and daughter duo, Mark and Abby Miller (Goran Visnjic and Kirsten Prout), she has a change of heart and decides to protect them instead. It turns out that they’re on the run from an evil oriental syndicate ludicrously called The Hand (you try to recite a line of dialogue like “They’re being chased by The Hand!”). The rest of the picture follows the pursuit-and-escape scenario, with fight after fight in which Elektra, in must be admitted, shows herself a singularly mediocre protagonist, save for her cool duds and svelte frame. But her relatively mediocre win-and-loss record can perhaps be forgiven since she’s but a mere mortal while her adversaries, led by a stern dude called Kirigi (Will Yun Lee) are a sort of evil version of the X-Men, complete with supernatural powers and names like Tattoo and Typhoid (the former, played by Chris Ackerman, is a much-painted fellow whose images emerge from his skin in the form of real–and dangerous–animals, while the latter, played by Natassia Malthe, has green hair and can apparently age a person to death with her touch). To even things up Stick makes another appearance, and Abby proves to have talents of her own, too. Need we say that virtue triumphs in the end?
What makes “Elektra” so laughably bad is the combination of ludicrous plot and ponderous execution. A story as thin and threadbare as this would have to be played with energy to have any chance of getting past the idiotic spots–of which there are many–but Bowman instead opts for ersatz profundity. His effort, with cinematographer Bill Roe his all too willing partner, is to affect a phonily elegant look (just watch for the Elektra-Abby scene on the lakeshore early on for an example), and it certainly doesn’t help that he so often resorts to slow motion (without it, the 97-minute running time could have been substantially reduced, to its benefit). The feeble script and funereal pacing hamstring the cast, with Garner pretty much relegated to posing in her carefully-chosen outfits, tossing her hair about seductively in the breeze (which comes up whenever needed, it appears–even indoors), and grimacing to indicate pain and/or sorrow. (Her fight scenes aren’t particularly impressive, because generally they’re filmed in excessive closeup, so that the sense of the choreography is pretty much lost. And the one played in a room filled with billowing cloths toward the close has the misfortune of seeming an inferior copy of a similar sequence in Zhang Yimou’s “Hero.”) Prout is half brat and half damsel in distress–an unhappy combination–and Lee one of those intense villains who quickly become boring. (In fairness, it must be said that the slight smirk he occasionally shows suggests that he’s in on the joke, even if the picture as a whole is lamentably short on humor.) Visnjic is wasted in a thoroughly thankless part; even his smile looks wan. An especially loud, percussive score by Christophe Beck completes the catalogue of mistakes. Kisa Tomczeszyn should be congratulated for her costumes, though: Elektra’s red jumpsuit might be ridiculous, but at least in a fun way.
Perhaps the most inappropriate line in “Elektra” comes toward the close, when Stick, happy at Elektra’s transformation into a heartfelt helper of the good, says, “You didn’t turn out too bad.” He’s sorely mistaken. The proper reaction to the movie is that which our non-vigilante purveyors of justice use at any accident scene: “Just move along, folks, there’s nothing to see here.” Wonder Woman, anyone?