A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 426 – Elektra

Elektra – April 30th, 2011

Tonight we follow up the disappointing Daredevil with a movie featuring the best part of that one: Jennifer Garner as Elektra. I’m not terribly familiar with Elektra as a character. I encountered her while reading some of the Daredevil stories but I never looked for more for her so I went into this movie with very little prior exposure. Basically what I came in knowing was that Elektra saw her mother die and has since lost her father. She’s an amazingly skilled fighter who’s been training since childhood. That about does it. Maybe it’s good for me to not know much about some characters so any divergences don’t bother me.

Now, this isn’t a great movie and it’s not trying to be. It’s aiming square at decent and hitting that mark. But I will say this: It’s a movie that knows damn well what it’s doing. This movie had its spine defined right from the outset: Redemption. And with a firm intent in place, well, it follows that the movie will be far less muddled than, say, last night’s movie that couldn’t quite settle on its purpose. We follow the character of Elektra, who’s taken all of her natural talent and years of training and begun using it for contract killing. She is excellent at it and she gets paid well for it and it has become all she knows. Since she’s the heroine of the movie obviously we’ll need to get some sympathetic backstory for her and clearly she can’t remain the coldhearted killer we meet at the outset.

The backstory reveals Elektra’s mother’s death and the mysterious figure responsible. We also see some of her early training through flashbacks Elektra has while living in a large and empty house on an island, waiting for instructions for her next job. I like this set-up because it not only gives us some view of the loneliness and isolation of Elektra’s life, but ties those qualities to her background. It’s done a lot more smoothly than many other background flashbacks I’ve seen. The redemption begins when she receives her assignment and it turns out to be Mark and Abby Miller, the father and daughter living in the cabin down the beach from the mansion she’s in. And she’s met them and spent time with them and allowed herself to become somewhat attached to them. Thanks to the background we have for Elektra we know that she’s got some personal issues with girls losing their mothers. She can’t do it. She switches sides.

It’s a credit both to Garner and the screenwriters that I didn’t ever question Elektra’s about face. She waffles. She questions her decisions and actions. She walks away from the Millers before turning back to them. And I like that. I like that it wasn’t an easy decision on her part. Had it been black and white I would have rolled my eyes. Anyhow, she goes to her associates to find help, first going to her old sensei, Stick, then to her ‘agent’, McCabe. Because there are more assassins coming after Mark and Abby, sent by the sinister Hand organization.

My one huge quibble here is McCabe. He sacrifices himself for Elektra and the Millers and that’s a great thing for him to do but why? The movie doesn’t establish enough of a personal relationship between him and Elektra to make me believe he cares about her enough to do that and he certainly doesn’t know enough about the Millers to care about them. So why? If they’d established more of him caring more about the money then I’d buy it. As it is it threw me out of a tense scene that was meant to establish something meaningful.

Fortunately, once we really get back to Stick the movie gets a needed infusion of awesome, cause Stick is played by Terence Stamp and he is awesome personified. I truly wish that he had been in Daredevil as well, because while I don’t think he could have saved that movie as it was, he certainly would have added some fun scenes. Stick in this movie is really one of my favorite character types: A manipulator. Love him. He gets to deliver sage advice and plot exposition at the same time and it just plain works. Terence Stamp needs to be in more movies. I think that’s pretty much what I’m taking away from this.

I’m not going to go into detail about just why Abby and Mark are on the run from mystical demon assassins who can kill with a touch or pull snakes out of their tattoos. Suffice it to say that they aren’t what they originally claim, which should be obvious, and eventually they figure into the larger plot a lot more. The point here is that Elektra gets back on the path she should have been on to begin with and we get plenty of fun fight scenes with flashy weapons and magical powers and multiple female characters kicking a whole lot of ass. I cannot complain about any of that, let me tell you.

Thanks to the movie’s defined purpose, the addition of a bit of a romance plot as well as some bonding between Elektra and Abby end up working towards the same goal as everything else instead of distracting from it. And I totally buy Elektra and Abby’s relationship, which is nice and I think a lot of that has to do with Kirsten Prout, who played Abby, doing a nice job as a teenager in a situation she would never have chosen. Sure, I wanted to shake her at least once, but that’s a thirteen year old for you.

I think if I was going to point a finger at any one thing in this movie that keeps it only decent instead of higher up on the scale it would have to be the lack of definition to the villains. Sure, we get these fun baddies with powers like impenetrable skin and super speed and all, but we get very little idea of who they are and why they want what they want. It’s a peeve of mine, but villainy for the sake of villainy just doesn’t cut it for me for the vast majority of stories and characters and these ones barely even get names. Sure, the Hand are from the comics and all, but without much in the way of background they’re just a bunch of evil supernatural ninjas.

Overall, however, I had fun with the movie. It was far more engaging to watch than Daredevil and it was certainly clearer in its intent. I do have to say it disappoints me to read about reports that claim Jennifer Garner only reprised her role as Elektra due to contractual obligations and that Ben Affleck was embarrassed to play a costumed superhero. It takes away from the movies and the characters, I admit. Take a look at someone like Chris Evans or Ryan Reynolds and their enthusiasm is palpable. Much as I might not think Nic Cage made the perfect Ghost Rider, dude obviously loves the character. And I’d far rather see someone with a love for the character or comic books in general than someone who looks the part but doesn’t give a damn. It ended up working out okay here, but thank goodness for the upcoming super hero movies of this summer.

April 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Elektra (2005)

April 30, 2011

Elektra

I like this movie loads more than I like the Daredevil movie that spawned it. As I said yesterday Jennifer Garner as Elektra was the best thing in Daredevil, and this movie gives her a lot of awesome stuff to do. It has some of the cooler mystical overtones of her story from the comic books without delving into the truly strange bits from the Elektra: Assassin storyline. It brings in elements like Stick and the Hand and the war between good and evil.

The film starts out with a sly bit of misdirection. In the opening preamble we’re told about a legendary warrior known as “The Treasure” and the war between the good and evil forces that want to claim her. Naturally if you are familiar with the comics you assume that Elektra is going to be this warrior. She is, after all (as shown in the opening scene) a legendary unstoppable assassin. The comic books make an issue of the battle for Elektra’s soul (and Matt Murdock’s soul for that matter.)

It is only when Elektra takes on her next contract that things begin to become clear. She has been hired to kill a thirteen year old girl named Abby Miller and her father who are on the run from something, although they won’t say what. Elektra is haunted by flashbacks of the death of her own mother and either she’s in love with Abby’s father or she has a new-found respect for life, so she decides instead to try and save them. It is only after they’ve been running for a while that we discover Abby is a martial arts prodigy – the real Treasure that everybody is trying to gain possession of.

Of course it’s all an excuse for Elektra to have a climactic battle with the Hand warriors led by the sword wielding speedster Kirigi and his henchmen Stone, Tattoo and Typhoid. It could have been an inconsequential supernatural martial arts movie, which would have been cool too, but there are a couple things that actually make the movie work.

The biggest thing this movie has in its favour is Stick – played with a sly grin by Terence Stamp. He’s not always convincing as a blind martial arts master, but he is completely awesome and cool. Simply by being Terence Stamp. I was also really impressed by the young actress playing Abby, Kirsten Prout. She does a great job portraying a impishly troublesome girl with a rebellious streak, and she has real chemistry with Jennifer Garner. If the relationship between the two of them didn’t work you wouldn’t be able to accept Elektra’s redemption arc, but as it is you get a sense that Elektra sees a lot of herself in Abby.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t great cinema. It’s a comic book inspired adventure movie and aside from a little playfulness it walks a safe and well worn path. On the other hand, it is a lot of fun to watch, with some cool fight scenes, some cool super powers, and a nice redemption arc for the lost soul of Elektra, tainted by sorrow and tragedy. I would recommend it over Daredevil any day.

April 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment