So I’m thinking I’ll start using this LJ account to occasionally post my thoughts on some of the stuff I’m reading and seeing — not full-fledged reviews or anything, but just a way of both prompting me to do a little thinking about the art I’m consuming and also helping me codify those thoughts. I saw Elektra last night, so now seems like a fine time to start.
First of all, I should say that despite my immersion in superhero lore, I don’t know much about this particular character. I’ve read the Frank Miller Daredevil issues where she gets introduced and gets killed — in fact, her debut in Daredevil #168 is one of the issues I happened to buy (or receive as a treat or something) as a kid. Sadly, I was 10 years old at the time and carefully preserving my comics wasn’t a high priority. Anyway, I know very little about her resurrection, her battles with “The Hand”, etc. — all I know is that at some point I thought, “Huh, I guess they resurrected Elektra and made her into some kind of kung fu T&A babe. Too bad.”
Anyway, one thing I do know from those original stories is that Elektra is Greek. And Jennifer Garner is anything but. Garner’s face has a girl-next-door quality that made her wrong for the part in the Daredevil movie, and it’s just as wrong in this one. Sure, she can do the physical stuff just fine, and there’s nothing wrong with her performance, really, but couldn’t they have found a Greek actress to do this? Yeah, yeah, she’s got a built-in audience from her TV show. Whatever. I don’t care about that because I’m not part of that audience. Wisely, the movie completely downplays anything about her ancestry, not even repeating Daredevil‘s mistake of casting a very Greek actor as her father. Still, Garner is just too cute-looking, and her attempts to pull off dark and mysterious often feel merely coy.
Past that casting beef, there were several things I liked about the movie. I thought the way Elektra’s memories got layered into her ongoing experience was cool, and I appreciated several of the tricks used in staging those memories, like the gimmick with the pool and the changing shape of her mother’s assassin. I also thought the portrait of her OCD was intriguing, and not too overt. I liked the way her rapid, efficient arrangements of toiletries and fruit echoed her cold and precise fighting style, or the way she puts together her crossbow. The film did a good job of portraying her as somebody whose childhood filled her with a desperate desire for control, who arranges her entire life to ensure that she maintains control but who also longs for a release from her self-imposed strictures.
I guess that’s why I wasn’t crazy about the end. It seems like the emotional arc of the movie wanted to be that Elektra finally learns what Stick is trying to teach her, that she must move beyond rage and self-protective instinct, that she must form meaningful connections with others in order to be a complete person. As Elektra drives Abby and Mark, the kid asks why Elektra kills people, and the answer is, “It’s what I’m good at.” “That’s messed-up,” observes Abby, and Elektra agrees. So why, at the end of the movie, does it seem like she really hasn’t gotten any less messed-up? I suppose a softened Elektra would make a sequel harder to write, but I think this is one of those instances where leaving the characters open to sequel potential ends up weakening the main story.
The Daredevil movie had several glaring weaknesses, some of the worst of which were scenes where the characters did things that made no sense but looked cool on camera — the most egregious one of these I can remember is the scene where Matt and Elektra have this incredibly gymnastic duel in front of a huge crowd. Not really the best way to hold on to the ol’ secret identity. Elektra doesn’t have anything as blatant as this, but it does have some utter groaners in its dialogue (“You gave me my life”, “You gave me back mine.”, and also “I knew your heart was pure.”) It also has its share of totally out of character things that happen for the sake of movie logic — for instance, when Elektra first bursts in to save Mark and Abby from evil ninjas, she says to him, “Who are you? Don’t lie to me.” Then a lot of fighting breaks out, there’s no time to answer, fair enough. However, after the fighting is over, she seems to spend long, languorous days at Stick’s place with the Millers, and apparently never re-asks this question. What’s more, despite the fact that the Millers lie so badly that even I could tell they were lying, Elektra’s suspicious never rise. The idea that a control-freak like Elektra wouldn’t insist on obtaining all possible information about her companions strained credulity for me. Of course, if she had acted in character, then we wouldn’t have been able to have the big reveal where Abby turns out to be a badass ninja as well — not that the rest of us couldn’t see it coming.
Performances were fine for the most part — I particularly enjoyed Terence Stamp as Stick, though I did find myself secretly rooting for him to declaim, “Now KNEEL BEFORE ZOD!” I’m not somebody for whom effects make or break a movie, so I don’t have a strong opinion about Elektra‘s effects. I did think it was good choice on the movie’s part to keep Garner out of the red bustier as much as possible — that suit already looks faintly silly in the comics, and it isn’t going to look anything but resoundingly silly on screen.
In my opinion, the best superhero movies, like the Superman, Spider-Man, and X-Men movies, make sure that the actors, director, and writers are all excellent craftspeople who have proven their mettle in independent or non-action arenas. Movies that don’t have these assets can be enjoyable too, but they’re nowhere near as fulfilling. Elektra is one of the latter category — it was better than Daredevil, and miles better than a stinker like League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but it wasn’t as good as it could or should have been.