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ELEKTRA

2005, dir. Rob Bowman
956 min. Rated PG-13.
Starring: Jennifer Garner, Goran Visnjic, Kirsten Prout, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, and General Zod.

Review by Justin Patterson

It was Monday night, and Chris and I wanted a guys' night out. I'd already seen the Lemony Snicket movie and wasn't really up to watching the House of Flying Daggers, so we settled on Elektra, instead. Soooo, I got my giant pretzel to make sure that I didn't have to pee during the movie and the giant Cherry Coke that ensured that I would and headed off to take in the latest from the recently successful Marvel Comics Group. Was it a waste of time? No. It was a much better option than renting some crap (like DareDevil, for example). Even better was the fact that there were only two other people in the theater. Silence is Golden? Yeah, right. I'll tell you all about it, but first. . . . PREVIEWS!!!!

Okay, not really previews. I need to bitch for a moment about these commercials they show before movies. First is the Coca-Cola C2 commercial featuring Queen's "I Want To Break Free." Chris has imbued his hatred of this commercial in me, and I feel the need to share. This is worse than Moe's being sued by Jerry Garcia's estate for using his image to sell burritos. Coca-Cola takes a song about the pains and longing affiliated with heroin withdrawal and says, "Hmmmm, that's a catchy tune about. . . . something. Let's use it to sell Coke!" The other commercial that bugged me was a new offering from AMC. They now have AMC Movie Nachos with Tostitos brand chips and REAL cheese. Anyone who has ever worked at an AMC knows that the real cheese thing is definitely a first. You look at the thing, though, and it looks like a Lunchable for fat people! Anyway, that's my bitching.

XXX: STATE OF THE UNION - Ice Cube steps in where Vin Diesel stepped out and kicks ass in the name of king and country. From the looks of it, the people behind this paid attention to some of the criticism that they got after the last XXX flick. It's still the "when in doubt, use the felon" plotline, but I'll probably wind up seeing it anyway.

UNLEASHED - Jet Li, Bob "Mario" Hoskins and Morgan Freeman star in a new take on the Magic Negro story. Well, that's what it looks like. Bob has Jet on a leash and treats him like a dog. If his collar comes off, though, he'll start killing everyone within reach. Due to the fact that they made a movie about it, I'm betting the collar comes off.

MR. AND MRS. SMITH - Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie star in what looks like True Lies Part II. They even use the same music in the tango scene. Rental.

FANTASTIC 4 - Okay, I'll have to see this. Casting differences and Doom's origin aside, I'll have to see this. The effects looked cool, but not like someone was trying to outdo everyone else on the planet. Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm is gonna rock.

And now, ELEKTRA.

Right off the bat, I was on edge. Even before the standard Marvel pages flapping before the movie, I thought the score was playing something like symphonic Evanescence. I was afraid that this film would do what Armageddon did for Aerosmith: choke us with it until we can't stands no more. Luckily, it appears that they did that just to frighten me.

To Marvel fans, the rough bits of the plot will (thankfully) ring a bell. Elektra had been dead, but now she's back. She kills people for a living, and has a rep the size of all outdoors. Our opening sequence really sets the scene nicely: some poor schmo is talking with his bodyguard about this woman who has been sent to kill him. She never misses. She can kill dozens of men to get to her target. They say she whispers in your ear, right before she kills you. All of that comes to pass, and we see how rough and tough Elektra is. "Layoffs and payroll reductions, that sort of thing. . . ."

We then see the other side of her. She's a little bit OCD and seems unsure of her direction in life. Awwwww. She's pressured into doing a hit by McCabe, her controller and confidant. It turns out that the hit is on a very nice man and his pain in the ass daughter. At this moment of revelation, you will realize two things: Elektra is really a kind and caring individual who doesn't really want to go around chlorinating the gene pool, and you really want her to at least whack the kid. From the moment when the kid should be scared but instead looks at Elektra with hero-worship awe in her eyes, you know exactly the direction the movie's going to drag you.

A group of very bad people (The Hand) is chasing after the little girl (Abby) and her father (Mark). Elektra is torn between wanting to keep her life simple and being forced to confront her traumatic past. The Hand killed her mother. DRAMA!!!

Even though it sounds like I'm being pretty down on the movie, I liked it. This is a far, far better movie than DareDevil ever was. It stayed true enough to the comic book that devout readers won't be too offended, but it strayed far enough away that people who never read the comic can still get into it. I'll dig in to some details.

First off, the scenery is great. I know that doesn't have a whole helluva lot to do with the movie (at least not this movie), but it's just incredible. They shot a bunch of it in Vancouver, BC, and it made me want to visit.

Jennifer Garner does an okay job. Her single greatest setback is that she just looks. . . nice. She looks too damned nice to be this super-assassin brought back from the dead. She does an okay acting job, but it's just hard to get past the fact that ELEKTRA has freaking dimples. I don't think Stan The Man ever really stressed that in the comic. She's obviously kept in remarkable shape, and her ease with the martial arts is noticeably increasing. Her skill with the sais has also grown.

Kirsten Prout as Abby actually did well. I've already told you that she does a remarkable portrayal of an annoying little shit, but she does other things well. While her father's character is largely just a throwaway, Abby has to actually act. We see her as annoying little shit, we see her as headstrong girl with promise, and we see her as scared little girl with no friends. Prout actually does a pretty goof job with all of these. In retrospect, most shortcomings for her character were due to writing and direction, rather than acting.

Terence Stamp as Stick was a really good call. He brings the kind of weight to the role that, when lacking, will reduce a character like Stick to comic relief. He's witty, yes, but we see the drive in him more clearly than the wit. Have you ever seen a blind man's eyes flare? Stamp does it pretty well, right after he reminds Elektra of just who is the teacher.

The bad guys were actually pretty freaking neat. Rather than portray The Hand as just a bunch of faceless ninjas, this movie gives us a few of them to look at closely. As head of the Council of the Hand is Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, in a role too brief for much comment. Still, I love the guy and think he's great in whatever roles he lands. His son and head of the squad sent to kill Elektra and Abby is Kirigi, played by Will Yun Lee. His performance ain't all that, but he made us respect him as a bad guy. With incredible speed, his own goon squad and a knack for killing, he's okay to watch. Next is Stone, played by Bob Sapp. A huge black man with a warhammer, a tough hide and a bad attitude, he's a little difficult for Elektra to take down. Stab him all you want, the blades just keep snapping. Perhaps the most disturbing of the bad guys is Typhoid, played by Natassia Malthe. This formerly hot chick has turned her halitosis into a weapon, able to kill from across the room. She prefers to kill by kissing, which should be hot but isn't. There's a character called Kinkou who is in the film for, I think, only part of one scene. I suspect there's more on the cutting-room floor. Anyway, we don't know if he has a superpower or not. He shows up, kicks the hell out of Elektra (capoeira, maybe?), then dies ingloriously. Last but not least is Tattoo, played by Chris Ackerman. A man with animal tattoos all over himself, he can animate them and send them out to go kill people. We see him looking through the eyes of a hawk, keeping track of Elektra and company. We see him send two wolves (hypersonic, lit-up flying wolves) from his chest. Near the end, we see his back issue forth a stream of hundreds of large snakes, making us wonder why he didn't do that earlier in the film rather than sending out two flying wolves.

A question that I posed early on in the film was answered, much to my satisfaction. Yes, members of The Hand dissolve and smoke when killed. It's a small issue, but one that I'm glad that noticed.

The director borrowed a bit from some other movies, but they're not dazzlingly horrible. There's a scene in which Elektra is testing young Abby's skills, taking us almost directly into the practice room from THE MATRIX. There's another damned hedge maze sequence like the one from THE SHINING (or CLUB DREAD, for that matter). There's also a death that was apparently written right after someone saw RETURN OF THE JEDI: body down the deep hole, explosion, brightly-lit whirling gases shoot upwards, etc.

It gets a little predictable, sometimes, and it's not a perfect movie. It was worth it for me, though, to shell out $8.50 to see this on a night when I needed a little time away. It was fun, kept my attention and reflected in a passable manner on the comic book. If you don't know the comic or are looking for a truly great film, though, you might want to hold off until it hits the dollar movie.

Think we can get Terence Stamp as Stick and Rutger Hauer to team up for Blind Fury II?

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