“I got nothing”
That isn’t a quote from the film. I mean I literally have nothing to say. ‘Elektra’ is a film so dull, so pointless, and so unnecessary that I cannot even find a single memorable line of dialogue with which to start my article.
Part of the objective in this series is to partially reconceptualize the Marvel movies, to repair their flaws and dream about something better. Just in that regard, ‘Elektra’ is at a disadvantage for me. I cannot pitch a better version of the film because it never should have been made in the first place. The only reason it was filmed was due to a contract between Marvel and 20th Century Fox which stipulated that if a Daredevil movie was made, the studio would also be obligated to produce an Elektra film as well. Jennifer Garner knew it would be a bad film going into the project. It is the only Marvel movie that producer Avi Arad has admitted as a mistake which never should have happened. The film was literally made in about six months with a minimal budget. And for the hardcore fans that would be responsible for making the money back, the character on screen was not the Elektra they knew.
If you cast your minds back to my piece on ‘Daredevil’ you will remember that I had a lot of problems with the way the Elektra saga was handled and even though the film was true to some of the basic story beats, it missed the point of what makes the character and her relationship to Matt Murdock work so well.
Where as their love was all too brief in the film, Daredevil and Elektra’s relationship in the comics was one that twisted and mutated into vengeance, anger and betrayal over the span of decades. After the death of her father, Elektra pushes herself away from everything good that is left in her life to pursue an existence of soul destroying violence and when she finally comes back into Matt Murdock’s life all those years later, it is as something he barely recognizes. Having only read the comics after seeing the film I expected they would eventually reconcile. I expected Murdock to break through Elektra’s steely exterior and find the humanity and the love still buried inside. It never happens. The most intimate moment they share is when Matt cradles Elektra on the front porch of his house, right before she bleeds to death.
Even more refreshing is an issue of the comics where Murdock wakes up in a cold sweat insistent that Elektra is alive. We expect he is right because a) popular characters never stay dead for long, b) Marvel are notorious for it, c) Murdock has those finely tuned super-senses and d) as readers we are still in shock and denial that she has been killed. The story culminates in Murdock having to dig up Elektra’s coffin to reconcile the truth. Rather than the traditional empty coffin cliffhanger we would expect, he finds her cold, lifeless body just as he left it in the morgue a little while before. Murdock breaks down and the reader is sent a very clear message; she is not coming back.
This is entirely appropriate to the story. The harsh truth is that Elektra was a villain, in the broadest sense. She had little to no consideration for the lives she destroyed. She blocked out the people who tried to bring her back to the light. She becomes the Kingpin of crime’s top assassin. Right before her death she had accepted a contract to take out Murdock’s best friend and partner Foggy Nelson. She paid the appropriate consequences of a violent, remorseless life.
To turn around after all of that and bring Elektra back from the dead just never worked for me, regardless of the fact that it was her creator Frank Miller who was responsible. Elektra is probably the prime example of a pet peeve I have with a lot of comic book characters. If that superhero is popular they will eventually have to endure a storyline which attempts to kill them off dramatically. 99% of the time they will rise from the dead and go back to business right afterwards as if nothing happened. What has changed for me as a reader/viewer is that I can no longer invest myself in that character’s mortality. Never again will I worry that they won’t be able to win the day or recover from critical injury. Because, in Elektra’s case, there will always be some ninjas just off-screen to sprinkle some magic pixie dust and bring them back to life.
Elektra is still an intoxicating character and any excuse to watch her fight a room full of evil ninjas is what I call good entertainment. Just don’t expect me to become emotionally wrapped up in it. That is the problem facing the film. The other is that the movie cannot even fulfill the simple request of being a cool, brainless action movie. Maybe if you’ve seen the recent film ‘Ninja Assassin’ you would call that a good thing. In the case of ‘Elektra’, what director Rob Bowman makes of the film goes completely against the source material.
When the character was brought back to life, Marvel at least had the sense to admit the implausibility of it and take her into a far more fantastical world of supernatural forces and magic powers. Rather than slicing through regular New York hoods, Elektra faces off against a ninja army who dissolve when they are felled. Rather than a gritty crime thriller, Elektra’s story became a wild, ethereal tale about ghosts returning to the land of the living to resume an epic conflict between good and evil which has raged for centuries. It’s larger than life. It’s perfect for an action film.
So why do the filmmakers feel the need to pollute to make the movie about Elektra protecting a teenager? If I were to pinpoint the moment we all collectively decided not to see the film, it would be when we first watched the trailer and realized that is what the movie was going to be about. Elektra, famed as the sexiest, most savage and untamable character in the Marvel universe, is reduced to the role of babysitter with sais.
The film’s blatant attempts to use the relationship between Elektra and this kid in order to humanize and pacify the former come across as cliché and forced. The flashbacks to Elektra’s childhood, almost bringing back painful memories of Ang Lee’s ‘Hulk’, feel pompous and pointless. Though it wants to take the character on a journey of redemption, the film never has the courage to show Elektra in any sort of vicious or malicious light beforehand. The only target we see her assassinate is some unnamed evil crime boss/businessman (poor old Jason Isaacs who surely has better places to be). As such there is no journey to take. There is nothing to redeem. The Elektra we meet at the start of the film, apart from being completely different to the one I admired from the Daredevil movie, has OCD and a grumpy disposition. That is what she comes back from.
The struggle to get there is non-existent too because ‘The Hand’, that supernatural and relentless ninja army from the comics, are presented on screen as such bland villains it defies description. Cary Tagawa plays evil scowling Asian for the billionth time. Beloved comic villains like Typhoid Mary are reduced to five minute special effect walk-ons. The character of Kirigi, a huge masked and mysterious, unstoppable and invincible force of nature in the comics is portrayed on screen as an empty space without an inch of menace, intrigue or charisma.
The whole film is an empty space. Usually even flawed comic book movies (like ‘Daredevil’) have something to recommend them because they are made by people who genuinely love the source material and have at least a basic understanding of why it works. ‘Elektra’ is a film made out of some stupid contractual obligation by people who neither understand nor care to know what made it successful. It is not honest enough to recognize what type of film it should be or story it should tell. It presents a hero we cannot root for, villains we cannot despise and a plot so hackneyed I can’t even synopsize it.
And I have spent far too much of your valuable time discussing it.