It would be easy to say that Elektra, Jennifer Garner's spin-off from Daredevil, is short on story and long on action. But even the action suffers in this mishmash of a film, which leaves us precious little to chew on.
What there is of it goes like this: Elektra (Garner) is an assassin, plagued by personal doubt --you know, that breed of film characters with whom we can all readily identify. She's so good that in an intriguing opening sequence, we see a powerful man literally sitting and waiting for her to come kill him. Then it's on to her next assignment--to take out a man and his teenage daughter, staying at a house on a tranquil lake. Instead of dispatching them immediately, Elektra finds herself drawn in by the warm-hearted Mark Miller (Goran Visnjic) and the spunky Abby (Kirsten Prout)--so much so that when it comes time to off them by bow and arrow some time later, she can't bring herself to let loose the arrow. But turning down the job means others will take her place, so she takes it upon herself to protect them. She shields them first from skilled ninja attackers, and then from the heavier guns. They include Typhoid Mary (Natassia Malthe), who literally breathes death on to her victims; Stone (Bob Sapp), a big, tough black guy who brushes buckshot off him like it's rubble; Tattoo (Chris Ackerman), who's eagle and snake tattoos spring to life; and Kiriji (Will Yun Lee), whose deadly martial arts skills rival Elektra's. They're all dispatched by The Hand, a sinister agency that soon sets their sites on Elektra herself. Aware that they're outgunned, she and her charges seek refuge with Stick (Terence Stamp), the master who trained her years ago.
The performances here are on par. Garner has a pouty, focused gaze--sometimes looking like a little girl who's concentrating almost too hard when its her turn to swing at a pitch in P.E. class. Elektra hurries her charges through underground tunnels and through the woods, in seriously vain attempts to elude their captors, who, despite the best magical help hired villains can buy, struggle mightily to catch up. You could say that Terence Stamp is nearly wasted in the role of Stick, especially when his performances in The Limey and Superman II come to mind. Of course, he brings a requisite dignity and majesty to the role, but he needs his big scene and doesn't get it. As the heavy Kirigi, Lee doesn't provide the kind of match-up that is a staple of comic book movies, say from Ian McKellen's Magento in X-Men. A welcome bit, however, comes in the form of the two ''ordinary folks'' in Elektra's care. Visnjic's (TV's ER) kindly father brings an earthy compassion to the part, while Prout's spirited Abby isn't bad, on her own, but doesn't quite bring to the role the quirky, young little adult presence that Thora Birch would have years ago, or that Anna Paquin did in X-Men. Still, there is a interesting surprise involving these two seemingly innocent bystanders, and its one of the few original moments in the movie that really seems to stand out.
Director Rob Bowman (The X-Files, Reign of Fire) seems like a good choice to helm Elektra, but unfortunately he's turned in an uninspired actioner. What separates the Marvel Comics characters from the usual bunch is a genuine sense of pathos, buoyed even further by very specific, effective storylines from their actual comic book roots. Spider-Man isn't just another superhero, he's a teen superhero, just as worried about getting a date and getting his homework done as he is with fighting powerful villains, and the X-Men are persecuted and despised by the very people they're trying to protect. The problem is, Elektra is not among the most compelling of characters. She doesn't have enough humanity, and the story not enough depth, to sustain us between fight scenes. And the fighting itself--shot entirely too close and with so many quick cuts as to mask any skillful choreography--falls woefully short in the entertainment category. Just as The Matrix raised the bar in special effects, recent movies such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon have upped the ante in what audiences can expect from a good martial arts fight. Elektra's most glaring flaw? The resort to slow-motion to make a simple move such as running up a flight of stairs seem dynamic and powerful. OK, so Elektra grabbed someone else by a magical rope at the time, but still--aren't the days of The Six Million Dollar Man over?
If only the action were better than it is, and if only Garner had been allowed to stretch her acting abilities as much as her high-flying skills, Elektra could be passable as entertainment--but it's no killer.