Archive for January 14, 2005

Elektra

January 14, 2005

Mourning may become Elektra, the angry and traumatized assassin from 2002’s Daredevil who’s now getting her own movie, but it doesn’t really become Jennifer Garner. As she showed in the charming 13 Going on 30, Garner is a gifted, unself-conscious comedienne, effortlessly likable and endearingly klutzy — notes she doesn’t get to play that often on her show Alias, and never at all in Elektra. Unquestionably, Garner has the physicality and focus to play Elektra Natchios, who kills seasoned ninjas as if swatting flies. But it’s kind of like watching Bruce Willis when he shuts down his personality for one of those brooding action things he does for the money every couple of years: You know he has the range, but you wouldn’t know it from those movies. Garner is simply too friendly a presence to look comfortable as an ice-hearted hired killer.

That said, Elektra — a better movie than the majority of critics would have you believe — makes Garner’s repressed humanity work for the film. At the start, Elektra is polishing off bad men for big money (the movie, like all movies about sympathetic assassins, subscribes to Martin Blank’s dictum “If I show up at your door, chances are you did something to bring me there”). She’s not happy about it, or about anything else: she seems to spend her blood money on fresh brushes to scrub her floor. The movie devotes a surprising amount of time to Elektra’s psyche, including a domineering dad who made her do swimming exercises, a murdered mom, and a bad case of OCD that compels her to count her steps and line up her fruits and vegetables just so. Between Elektra, Howard Hughes in The Aviator, and Tony Shalhoub on TV’s Monk, obsessive-compulsives sure are getting an attractive face forward lately.

In any event, a movie like this demands that Elektra have a change of heart, and when she meets a family next door — widower dad Goran Visnjic and his spunky daughter Kirsten Prout — we may guess correctly that they are her next assignment, and that she, seeing herself in the girl, will balk at killing them and incur the wrath of whoever wants them dead. Soon enough, Elektra is protecting dad and daughter from The Hand, a group of martial-arts supervillains with neato-keen powers: Tattoo (Chris Ackerman), for instance, sends animals out from his skin art to spy for him, and Typhoid (the half-Norwegian half-Malaysian model Natassia Malthe, an exotic mix if ever there was one) can kill things just by gesturing in their general direction.

Elektra is the first of two comic-book creations this year to be fitted for the screen from the work of Frank Miller; the upcoming Sin City is the other. Miller created Elektra as an old flame and sometime enemy of the blind superhero Daredevil, and she grew from there into Miller’s satire of bad-ass ninja babes in Elektra: Assassin (which, if adapted by Oliver Stone in his splintered Natural Born Killers/JFK mode as he was reportedly considering about ten years ago, would’ve been one hell of a ride). What’s missing in this Elektra is a certain sense of play and imagination; if you’re going to devise such outrageous villains for Elektra to battle, why can’t she do away with them by more colorful methods than throwing a sai at them or dropping a tree on them?

My favorite character from Miller’s older Elektra stories was always Stick, the blind, crotchety guru who trained her and then cast her out because she needed an anger-management course or two. Terence Stamp embodies Stick as well as anyone I can imagine, and if anyone deserves a spin-off from this spin-off it’s Stamp, who bizarrely seems to have aged from the androgynous Billy Budd in his film debut 33 years ago into someone who’s perfectly credible as a gnashing Cockney killer in The Limey and, here, a guy who seems equally at ease knocking pool balls around and pinning the muscular Jennifer Garner to the same pool table. It’s Stick who brings the once-dead Elektra back to life (since she died in Daredevil), and it’s Stamp who brings Elektra to life when it flags. As for Garner, once Elektra thaws out a bit and is allowed to show emotion towards the girl, Garner is on firmer ground and can safely drop her dead-affect assassin voice and act. But I’d still like to see her in as many romantic comedies as she has the stomach for.