directed by Rob Bowman
(20th Century Fox, 2005)

During one climactic duel in Elektra, the battle between the heroine and her relentless ninja foe takes place amidst a labyrinth of dancing bedsheets. The reason so much lifeless linen becomes animated around them is never explained, and the nonsense of it all mars an otherwise well-choreographed scene.

Silly stuff like is littered throughout this stuffy comic-book movie, which collapses under its own sense of weight and importance. While actress Jennifer Garner imparts a degree of gravity to her tortured assassin-cum-savior, director Rob Bowman fails to give the film a story or structure to support it.

Elektra begins promisingly. The assassin-for-hire, believed by some to be an urban legend, is shown to be very real and very efficient when she takes out a cadre of mercenary bodyguards and kills some Scotch-drinking guy from behind. (We sense he is bad and somehow deserves his fate, but in the scene he's rather personable and philosophical about it all.) However, Bowman stumbles when he tries to give Elektra a heart without providing any basis for her sudden transformation.

Elektra's past is murkily revealed through a series of surreal flashbacks that are so vague and dreamlike that we don't actually learn much about her. We do, however, learn that she was killed at some point and resurrected through mystical means, then was trained in martial arts and set loose in the world as a deadly assassin. And she has dreams about bad childhood memories that are intended, I suppose, to give this stone-cold killer a soft and vulnerable side. Oh, and she also has visions.

Hired to kill a pair of targets, Elektra balks when she realizes she has a father and daughter in her sights. The reason our red-garbed assassin suddenly turns sentimental is never explained, but she puts her life on the line to combat a host of ninjas also trying to murder the pair. A decision by one supporting character to sacrifice himself for Elektra's new cause is similarly inexplicable.

Abby Miller (Kirsten Prout) is a precocious 13-year-old with far too much bad attitude and vinegar, but who immediately latches onto Elektra as a new mother figure and their only possible friend and savior. Her dad, Mark Miller (Goran Visnjic), comes off as a mild-mannered and sensitive new-age guy with, of course, a tragic past and secret.

And, of course, there is something of an inevitable yet purposeless and unlikely romance blossoming in the midst of mystical ninja attacks and lots of running away. This leads to seemingly deep and emotional scenes without depth.

Several intriguing villains are underutilized, while the special effects-driven tattoed ninja is used too much. The villains' neat trick of puffing into clouds of green smoke when they're killed is never explained.

Overall, the film strives to be dark and mysterious, yet it lacks a real mystery to conceal. Elektra, created by iconic comic-book writer Frank Miller, fails to leap from page to screen -- and the real sorrow is, a better director and script could have made much better use of this intriguing character.

by Tom Knapp
25 February 2006

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