Tuesday, December 18, 2007

reVIEW (33)

Since my review for Suspect Zero went up here at the Iguana because it was co-written by Zak Penn, I figured this one should go up too, since it was also written by Penn. (Boy, it’s a good thing I enjoyed Incident at Loch Ness, or Penn might think I’ve got it in for him…)

Marvel really does know how to shoot itself in the foot.
For all their initiative in translating their superhero properties onto the big screen in the past few years—leaving DC far behind in the dust—it’s really only been Bryan Singer’s X2, Guillermo del Toro’s Blade II, and Sam Raimi’s Spider-man, that have passed muster. All their other movies have run the gamut from, a) better-than-good-but-not-great (X-Men), to b) disappointing (Ang Lee’s The Hulk), to c) just plain awful (Mark Steven Johnson‘s Daredevil).
Rob Bowman’s Elektra though, has the distinction of being the first of Marvel’s recent screen adaptations that is downright boring. And if it’s one thing a comic book film shouldn’t be, it’s boring. The four-color world of comics is frenetic and stylized, charged with adrenaline, and, in the case of red-clad assassin Elektra, a fair amount of pubescent hormones. Unfortunately, none of that is carried over to Bowman’s film.

Picking up some years after the events in Daredevil, Elektra begins with some voice-over back story by Terence Stamp’s Stick, before segueing into a standard sequence which is supposed to establish how formidable our heroine is. Her existence is now considered an urban legend, since she died, after all, in Daredevil. Now an assassin-for-hire, it isn’t long before she gets embroiled in the affairs of The Hand, an evil order of ninja—we know they are evil because when their minions die, they dissolve into billowing yellow smoke—with sinister designs on “The Treasure,” a warrior pivotal to the battle between light and dark.
What follows is a film that is not so much predictable as it is blandly unsurprising. Revelations are made in the course of the story that do absolutely nothing to raise the tepid sense of detached observation which quickly sets in while watching Jennifer Garner alternate between agonizing over the loss of her mother at an early age, and kicking Hand butt.
Sadly, not even the action sequences do much to alter the tenor of Elektra. Uniformly unimpressive—despite one that has a neat set-up with a multitude of floating white sheets—the fight scenes are even more inept than another recent Marvel entry, Blade: Trinity’s, and those were already nearly dispensable. Even the showdown with the quartet of enemy warriors—who we know are formidable and merciless because their grand entrance is done in slow-motion—are horribly inconsequential, as is Elektra’s face-off with main baddie, Kirigi (Will Yun Lee; Colonel Moon from Die Another Day). More’s the pity, considering Kirigi’s (again) none-too-surprising significance to Elektra’s life.

Zak Penn‘s script, in attempting to give us a human protagonist with a past filled with pain and emotion, ends up delivering a story totally devoid of action and tension, dealing, as it does, with story elements we’ve all seen before: the supposedly stone-cold killer with a good heart; the contract that isn’t what it seems; the targets that cause the killer to be conflicted, etcetera, ad nauseum.
Nowhere in the film’s running time do we actually feel a threat, a sense of danger. At no single point do we feel that life is a precious thing. After all, those of Elektra’s order can raise the dead, as they did with her. With that sort of power in your corner, why bother to worry?

Rob Bowman, meanwhile, elevates Elektra not a whit beyond its tension-free beginnings. An X-Files directorial alumnus, Bowman then went on to helm the X-Files feature film, as well as Reign of Fire. Other than a phantasmagoric kiss in a forest, and one of Elektra’s flashbacks involving an apparent demon, nothing in the film is indicative of any sort of directorial flair. Like the X-Files movie, Elektra is straight-forward and by-the-numbers, leaving no residue at all, no lingering feeling of “What did I just see?”, of the revelatory wonder that cinema is capable of.
Perhaps if the director were more versed in the very specific sort of world Elektra’s story is set in, then things would have turned out differently. This is a world steeped in martial arts and mysticism, the world of the Hong Kong martial arts genre, or, to be truer to Elektra’s comic book roots, the world of Japanese manga and anime.

Now, lest I be accused of racism, let me reiterate: Elektra needed a director versed in the genre. Quentin Tarantino understood it well in the Kill Bill saga, as did Guillermo del Toro in Blade II, and the Wachowskis in The Matrix, and none of them are Asian. Inappropriately, Bowman seems to have approached the material as if it were a normal action film with a touch of the supernatural thrown into the mix. Elektra needed to be soaked in a certain atmosphere, to have a specific sensibility. Instead, it languishes in a flavorless stock of mundane proportion.
Not even the presence of charismatic Terence Stamp—who has done everything in his career from facing down the Man of Steel in Superman II, to prancing around the Australian outback in drag in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert—manages to make a dent in the terribly pedestrian armor Elektra is wrapped in.

In the end, where Elektra is concerned, I think this was the biggest surprise: spinning off from the awful Daredevil, I thought it would either be better, or worse, with the greater possibility of being better, as Daredevil was already pretty bad
I just never expected Elektra to be a big, stupefying bore.

(Elektra OS courtesy of impawards.com.)

(The above is a slightly altered version of a previously published review entitled “Marvelous Bore.”)

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