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Pulp Culture
Is 'Elektra' the end of the road for Marvel movies?

January 27, 2005
By Franklin Harris

"Elektra" may signal the beginning of the end for Marvel Comics' string of box-office successes.

Jennifer Garner stars in ''Elektra,'' the latest film based on a Marvel Comics character.
Photo © Copyright 20th Century Fox
Jennifer Garner stars in "Elektra," the latest film based on a Marvel Comics character.
Marvel had unqualified blockbusters with "Spider-Man," "X-Men" and their sequels. Even disappointments like "Hulk" and "The Punisher" made money after overseas ticket sales and domestic DVD sales were factored in. But the resounding thud "Elektra" made in theaters must have sent shivers down the spines of Marvel shareholders.

"Elektra" opened in fifth place, behind such lackluster competition as "Coach Carter," a paint-by-the-numbers "inspirational teacher" flick starring Samuel L. Jackson, and "Racing Stripes," a silly children's movie about a racing zebra and his sidekicks, a pair of talking horseflies. In its second weekend of release, "Elektra" dropped to 10th place, setting it up to be a flop of "Catwoman" proportions.

The disappointing returns of "Elektra" and "Catwoman" have some observers thinking that audiences aren't interested in superhero movies based on female characters. A better theory is that audiences simply aren't interested in bad superhero movies.

Not that "Elektra" is as bad as "Catwoman." Far from it. But it isn't particularly good, either.

"Elektra" stars Jennifer Garner ("Alias") in the same role she played in 2003's "Daredevil" opposite Ben Affleck. When we last saw Elektra, she was dead, but coming back from the other side is one of the character's specialties. Elektra's comic-book incarnation, created by Frank Miller ("Sin City"), has returned from the grave at least twice.

Elektra's savior in this case is Stick, played by Terrence Stamp, who is no stranger to superhero movies, having played General Zod in "Superman: The Movie" and "Superman II." Stick is a blind martial arts master, and he helps the revived Elektra hone her skills until, like Yoda, he senses much fear and anger in her and kicks her to the curb.

On her own and with nowhere to go, Elektra goes back to her old ways, working as an assassin for hire. But, of course, there is a complication — she can't bring herself to complete her latest contract.

She is supposed to kill a man named Mark Miller (Goran Visnjic) and his 13-year-old daughter, Abby (Kirsten Prout). But when she learns that the two are on the run from a mystical ninja cult known as The Hand, she switches sides and helps them escape.

Why does Elektra have a change of heart? Well, it seems that Abby reminds Elektra of herself when she was a teenager, and nothing brings out the hero in an action heroine quite like an appeal to her maternal instincts. (See also: Sigourney Weaver in "Aliens.") Also, Elektra is attracted to Mark, although nothing ever comes of this. It's as if the screenwriters thought they had to have a romantic subplot but couldn't figure out how to squeeze one into the script. (Heaven forbid that a heroine should go through an action movie without locking lips with some hunky guy.)

What follows is an extended getaway, during which Elektra faces off against several "Mortal Kombat" rejects, one of whom is covered with living tattoos that do his fighting for him. All this culminates in a showdown between Elektra and The Hand's top assassin, Kirigi (Will Yun Lee), in Elektra's abandoned childhood home.

Elektra's old digs raise several annoying questions. Who simply abandons a multi-million-dollar mansion? No matter how tragic the events that took place there, wouldn't you sell it rather than leave it to ruin? And, having abandoned it, who leaves the gas and electricity turned on?

You can't fault Garner. She does her best with the part she's given, and it's more the script's fault than hers that we never buy her as a cold-hearted killer, which makes her inevitable redemption anticlimactic. Nor is the blame director Rod Bowman's. Bowman, who directed several episodes of "The X-Files" and the 1998 "X-Files" movie, turns in a competent product. But the script, apart from its obvious lapses, is like a one-hour TV pilot stretched too thin.

"Elektra" doesn't really know what to do with its title character, so it doesn't do much. How, exactly, do you make a professional killer seem heroic?

We're still waiting for an answer.

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