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Elektra (2004)

Looks can kill.

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 98 minutes

US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12a

Back from the dead but expelled from her sensei's ninjitsu school, messed-up Marvel Comics heroine Elektra (Jennifer Garner) has become a cold-hearted assassin-for-hire – until, that is, she warms to fugitive father and daughter Mark (Goran Visnjic) and Abby (Kristen Prout), and decides to defend them from a team of freakish killers led by Kirigi (Will Yun Lee), a powerful ninja with a dark link to Elektra's past.

The name Elektra is inevitably burdened by a certain legacy. “Like the tragedy”, as Mark puts it when he first hears the name of the ass-kicking heroine – for in Greek mythology, after her father Agamemnon has been murdered by her adulterous mother Clytemnestra, Elektra is torn between her desire for vengeance and her knowledge that matricide is an act of unspeakable evil. The parents of Frank Miller's modern-day Elektra were in fact happily married, but she is nonetheless, like her classical namesake, so haunted by their violent demise that her desire for vengeance has compromised her power to do good – and so an ancient myth becomes a modern one.

Fortunately, however, the sai-bearing ninja in red proves resistant to the pitfalls of more recent traditions. For if the risible Catwoman (2004) declawed filmgoers’ expectations of comicbook superheroines, ‘Elektra’ raises the bar back to a more tolerable level; and although Garner had previously played Elektra as a secondary character in DareDevil (2003), this stand-alone venture avoids many of the superhero clichés (biochemically altered dark knight brooding over gothic metropolis below) that had made ‘DareDevil’ so forgettably ordinary. Elektra may have martial arts skills that border on the magical, and an all too convenient habit of being brought back to life by her blind master Stick (Terence Stamp), but she is essentially both human and mortal – and her adventures take place for the most part not in the same familiar rainswept urban dystopia as, say, Batman, ‘The Crow’, ‘Blade’, ‘Spawn’, Spiderman, Hellboy and of course DareDevil, but in remote and depopulated locations (an island deserted for the winter, a solitary farmhouse, woods, an mansion) which bring to the film a whole new visual aesthetic.

Not that ‘Elektra’ is entirely without cinematic influence. Its basic plot is straight out of ‘The Replacement Killers’; Elektra’s mutant opponents look like extras from X-Men (hardly a coincidence, given that co-writer Zak Penn also penned X2); and almost every word uttered by her mentor Stick is the sort of pseudomystic sub-Yoda twaddle that has been heard a thousand times before (“you understand violence and pain, but you do not know the Way”, “I see more than any of you because I don’t look”, etc.).

Elektra’s training in ‘kimagure’, a technique which allows her to monkey around with time, seems to have infiltrated the editing of the film itself, giving it a pace which is decidedly uneven. The first half is slow and almost action-free, as though lots of moody and brooding shots of Elektra will somehow give to her character a greater complexity than Garner’s one-note acting alone can conjure. The fight sequences, when they come, are fast and furious, showing off to advantage Garner’s immense physical skills (gained from work in television’s ‘Alias’ as well as DareDevil) – but the breakneck speed of these scenes detracts from their coherence, with the climactic face-off against Kirigi in particular making almost no sense at all despite its undeniably stylish look.

Still, there is plenty to like about this spin-off sequel which strives, like its heroine, to stand alone against the competition.

It's Got: A motley crew of villains (including one with animal tattoos that come to life, and another whose proximity alone can kill); a singular, at times trippy, visual aesthetic; and Goran Visnjic repeatedly saying "Abby" as though he never left the set of ER.

It Needs: A less bland central performance from Jennifer Garner (although she kicks ass with the best of them); a more even pace; and to reveal not just WHO wins the climactic fight (as if we couldnt guess), but HOW.


Hardly the 'Citizen Kane' of superhero films – but 'Elektra' is better than 'DareDevil', and a LOT better than 'Catwoman'.