Jennifer Garner’s Elektra was clearly the most memorable thing about “Daredevil,” so they revived her from apparent death and jettisoned her horned boyfriend. Yet solo adventure “Elektra” proves no more than fitfully satisfying, a character-driven superhero yarn whose flurry of last-minute rewriting shows in a disjointed plot. Garner’s ascendant star, eye-catching billboards and a relatively modest budget should yield a respectable bounty as the pic fights its way through various forms of exhibition, but additional Lazarus-like resurrections appear unlikely.
In theory, there should be something liberating about adapting more obscure comicbook creations to the bigscreen, inasmuch as they arrive burdened with fewer expectations and preconceived notions. After “Elektra” and “The Punisher,” however, consideration needs to be given to capturing the dark streaks in these Marvel properties without bleaching out most of the fun.
Despite a promising start, ultimately this tale of an icy assassin who becomes a young girl’s protector feels alternately too talky to triumph as an action vehicle and too frenetic to be fleshed out to succeed as a drama.
Trained as a ninjalike warrior after her mother’s murder (recounted in a series of flashbacks), Elektra is introduced in a smooth sequence showcasing precisely how dangerous she can be, as she overcomes multiple guards en route to her quarry. Lightning quick, she wields a pair of three-pronged knives called sais, perfect for as much shish-kebabbing as a PG-13 rating will allow. (The bad guys conveniently disappear in puffs of smoke once eliminated, reducing the post-fight mess.)
Soon, though, she is hired to kill 13-year-old Abby (Kirsten Prout) and her father (Goran Visnjic), targets of the Hand, a shadowy organization opposed by Elektra’s former mentor, Stick (Terence Stamp) and his equally chopsocky cohort.
Determined to save the girl, Elektra faces a formidable team of adversaries under the stewardship of Kirigi (Will Yun Lee), whose now-you-seen-him, now-you-don’t antics parallel her own.
Director Rob Bowman cut his teeth on “The X-Files,” but the moody atmosphere (aided immeasurably by Christophe Beck’s percussive score) can’t mask the film’s shortcomings in the later reels. Once the action finally kicks in, too much of it lacks the requisite excitement and, frankly, the most intriguing villains get dispatched too easily.
Established as an action heroine in her TV series “Alias,” Garner could be that rarest of female stars — comfortably flitting from a charming turn in the romantic comedy “13 Going on 30” to bad-ass action roles where she can put those enviably sculpted abs to use. But “Elektra” affords her only limited opportunities to flex much more than her pouting muscles, combined with an inordinately purposeful strut.
Glimpses of wit do emerge from the trio of credited writers, such as Elektra’s deadpan explanation that her work involves “payroll deductions.” Who knew, moreover, that assassins employ agents who settle for 10% of the gross?
Still, the film can’t sustain any sense of rhythm in the way, say, that the “X-Men” films managed to do. That’s despite first-rate physical trappings, from the lush forest scenery (shot in Vancouver) to Garner’s form-flattering costumes.
Bringing comicbooks to life always represents a particular challenge, with words and images that don’t quite survive the leap from page to screen. “Elektra” earnestly tries to complete that jump but, once the fighting’s over, can’t quite stick the landing.