Fri, Jan 28, 2005 - Page 16 News List

Hot bod can't save Elektra

Once again Hollywood has failed to create a superheroine as richly conceived as those on television or in Hong Kong cinema

By Manohla Dargis  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The latest Hollywood movie to give comic books a bad name, Elektra, stars Jennifer Garner as a superheroine who dons fetish-wear the color of blood before laying waste to every man in sight.

"Your parents must have had a sense of humor," the broodingly handsome and plucky love interest says to Elektra about her mythopoetic name. She answers in the negative: no they did not and neither does she. This chick may have a complex (or two), but like the rickety vehicle supporting her and the hopes of Marvel Comics, she emphatically does not have a sense of humor.

Created in the 1980s by the comic-book auteur Frank Miller while he was working on Marvel's Daredevil, Elektra initially popped up as the titular superhero's onetime romantic foil-turned-nemesis. Decades later she showed up again, this time in the barely-watchable potboiler of the same name starring Ben Affleck.

Affleck, wearing an unfortunately snug get-up more appropriate for a Las Vegas showboy, was the hero of that flick, but Garner was its saving grace. The actress stole every one of her scenes and for her troubles has now been rewarded the starring role in its equally dreary spin off. What a waste, not only because Elektra should and could seriously rock -- she is, after all, a naive college student turned ninja assassin -- but also because Garner can and sometimes does.

Female superheroes are a strange breed. There are all sorts of reasons for this, including that culturally there's always something disturbing, even disrupting, about a woman who walks, or flies, alone. That may explain why so many female superheroes travel in gendered packs or hook up with supermen. (Remember, before she donned that cute red, white and blue suit, Wonder Woman was hanging with the sisters on Paradise Island.)

Film Notes

Directed by: Rob Bowman

Starring: Jennifer Garner (Elektra), Terence Stamp (Stick), Kirsten Prout (Abby), Goran Visnjic (Mark), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Roshi), Will Yun Lee (Kirigi) and Natassia Malthe (Typhoid)

Running time: 96 minutes

Taiwan Release: Today


Given its track record when it comes to women, it's no surprise that Hollywood has failed to create superheroines as richly conceived as those running around on television or in Hong Kong cinema, where for decades alpha gals have been soaring through the air and kicking up their high heels to battle villainy and, often times, their own personal demons.

Hollywood has a fairly miserable track record when it comes to superheroes, too, as witnessed by the diminution of the Batman franchise (soon to be reborn) and the overrated X-Men movies.

Still, the need for new female stars with smiles as wide and inviting as that of Julia Roberts is urgent enough that you would have expected the studio releasing Elektra to have demanded as much creativity from the movie's director, Rob Bowman, and screenwriters -- Zak Penn, Stuart Zicherman and Raven Metzner -- as from its costume designer, Lisa Tomczeszyn, and Garner's personal trainer, Valerie Waters.

Miller's Elektra doesn't have the pedigree of the character conceived by Euripides and Sophocles, but she's the type of creation -- moral conflict plus hot bod -- that could have executives laughing all the way to the bank.

There are a few laughs in Elektra, principally because the script is a joke. The story, such as it is, involves the brooding love interest (Goran Visnjic) and his daughter (a miscast Kirsten Prout), who are the target of a shadowy group called "The Hand." A mostly Asian gang that treads dangerously close to stereotype of the Fu Manchu variety, The Hand is ruled over by the fine actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa.

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