Saturday, March 31, 2012

Marvel Movie Project #20: Elektra

Jennifer Garner was a really hot property at the time the Daredevil movie was made, I get that.  She was doing gangbusters over on that show Alias.  It was a show that featured some action scenes, so I guess someone assumed that Garner was an action star and that she would be a perfect fit for an action role in an action movie like Daredevil.  That didn't quite pan out like everyone hoped, and while it wasn't so much Garner's fault, it was her star power alone that deluded Hollywood into thinking she could carry an action film of her own.  Deluded.

When handling a character like Elektra, you have an opportunity to tell a myriad of interesting stories.  You can tell a ninja story, an assassin story, a psychological drama about someone returning from the dead, and so on.  The story doesn't have to be overly complex, but it does want some depth.  Elektra may not be the most involved Marvel character, but there is substance there.  Whatever angle you decide to take will dictate the tenor of the film.  Is it a mystery?  Is it all out action?  Is it a character profile?  Do we care about Elektra?  Can we relate to her?  Should we?

All important questions that no one in the production of the Elektra movie bothered to ask.  Instead, what we get is a paper thin plot strung along by cheesy dialogue and weakly navigated by cardboard characters.  The first indication that this was going to be a clunker comes in the first 5 minutes of the film when the person Elektra comes to kill tells the audience, via direct address no less, that he is an "evil man."  You have to be one of two things to self-identify as the "bad guy:" you have to be mentally deranged or so morally bankrupt that you are criminally insane.  The person in the movie does not come across as either.  He comes across as corrupted person, maybe a dirty businessman or some such, but he does not come across as unhinged.  As a matter of fact his composure in the face of death suggests a metered, controlled approach to his emotions and a deep existential understanding of his situation.  Yet he sits there in his chair and tells me that an assassin is coming to kill him because he is a villain.  A true villain never sees themselves as such.  For one fictional and one non-fictional case study consider Magneto, and ironically, Adolf Hitler.

Even with that shaky start I was willing to give the movie a chance to recover.  Perhaps that was just a poorly scripted scene (see also Elektra's flatly delivered "I've been dead once" groaner that immediately undermines anything else she might do for the rest of the film).  With that in mind, I settled back in hoping for a dazzling recovery in the second act.  But I knew the film was doomed the minute the guy and his daughter moved into the house next to where Elektra was staying and my brain said "that's the guys she's going to have to kill."  If I can see your plot coming this far down the road, then you are in trouble.  Sure, I didn't guess the part about the daughter, or the ensuing attempt at a parallel between Elektra and the child, but those bits were icing on the already rotten cake anyway.  When that guy moved in, there were only two ways they were taking this: love interest or mark.  I am wrong; I left out the third: love interest AND mark.  So I guess in that way Elektra did exceed a slight expectation.  Or perhaps it overfilled an already meager expectation.  It is hard to decide.

Either way, if you are going to make your plot that transparent, then you had damn well better make the ride to the end one hell of a trip or you are just serving me some plain white toast.  Sadly, Elektra opts to order off the Jake and Elwood menu.  Once the predictable plot gets going we meander through some fairly decent, if a bit borrowed, action scenes and then amble our way toward an obvious conclusion, despite some head-scratching side roads like Elektra decision to take the girl to her mentor and train her to fight.  Sadly, Elektra does very little assassinating, apart from the self-proclaimed "villain" at the start, and she has very few moral dilemmas to face despite her anti-hero status.  Her purpose is clear very early on and she recognizes it, then she drags us along to the inevitable conclusion.

By the time the movie is over, nothing has really been gained and despite what the film tries to assert, no characters have really been significantly changed or developed.  Wait, I take that back.  At the beginning of the film, for no apparent reason, we are led to believe that Elektra has pretty a strong OCD.  At the end of the film, and really in pretty much every scene after the OCD scene, Elektra seems to be well cured of her disorder.  So maybe something is gained.  What is lost is 97 minutes of my time.  A shame too, because an Elektra story is very wide open and has a lot of potential for coolness.  You know, like when Frank Miller did this:
Do not confuse with what happens in the terrible Daredevil movie.  NOT the same at all.

Aimee's Take:

Elektra is a soulless movie filled with cardboard cut-out characters. It is fortunate that Elektra is the title of the movie, because if it were not, I would have no reason to know the main character's name. It is predictable and wooden, plodding stylishly through a nonsensical plot. 

There is a reason that, for the most part, Elektra sucks up the bottom rung of every ranking and movie list. It is intolerably bad. But--as you've seen, not as intolerably bad as others. Elektra represents, on our list, the demarcation line between miserably awful and almost watchable. Elektra and below = no likeable characters. Above it? There's at least one character that makes the movie interesting--even if it is only for the duration of their screen presence. 

There's nothing in Elektra to make me even remotely interested in the character. I hate every character--from Elektra to who ever that little girl was. They were all aggravating bitches when they weren't being completely stilted.

But, it is a stylish movie. You can follow the plot, even if it doesn't make a lot of sense. And the costuming was nice. I have no real complaints about the soundtrack. Simply put, it's just not a good movie--but it's not offensive. I will never watch it again, but I guess I wouldn't blame someone for throwing it on in the background while they ate a Lean Cuisine on a Tuesday night. Plus, some people find Jennifer Garner's pouty man-jaw, goblin ears and Hulkish hands to be attractive. I am not one of them, but I guess I can make a case for someone enjoying the (dubious) eye-candy.

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