Electric as Elektra, Jennifer Garner does a high-powered, blade-thrusting star turn as Marvel Comics' ninja-inspired superheroine, bringing such unbridled energy and sexuality to her performance, one barely notices the movie itself.
And that's a good thing, because Elektra is pretty shallow stuff, a pastiche of martial-arts razzmatazz surrounding a too-solemn ode to lost childhood. Both Elektra and her enemies, emissaries of an evil group known as The Hand, seem to acquire new powers at will, and emotions turn way too arbitrarily.
But none of that matters when Garner's onscreen; she's that compelling, that dominating and that convincing.
Those who saw 2003's Daredevil, both of you, will remember Elektra did not survive that film (star Ben Affleck's career barely did, but that's another story). This being the superhero universe, death is only a minor annoyance, and sure enough, Elektra was revived. That, however, has proved a mixed blessing, as she's devolved into a sullen, joyless assassin-for-hire.
On the brink of emotional burnout, Elektra accepts one more job. But first, her employer wants her to spend a few days in a picturesque mountain hideaway. There, she meets a troubled teen, Abby (Kirsten Prout), and her soulful father, Mark (Goran Visnjic, the current hunk on TV's ER). Against Elektra's best efforts, bonding begins.
Not good, because guess who she's been hired to kill? And as steely as Elektra has tried to make herself, she's no match for the role-model-seeking Abby, or for Mark's blue eyes. Not only does she reconsider the job, but she becomes the pair's protector when new assassins, sent by The Hand, try to finish the job.
There's nothing wrong with the core story of Elektra, as our embittered warrior finds rejuvenation in the soul of a child who needs her help both emotionally and physically. Garner lets her character's rough edges soften gradually, while Prout, in her first major movie role, comes across as both capable and vulnerable, not an easy mix.
Director Bowman, a veteran of TV's The X-Files, has a keen eye for imagery, but lacks the poet's soul that would make it whole; isolated images stand out but never coalesce into a compelling vision. A fight between Elektra and The Hand's minions, including an over-ambitious heir apparent (Will Yun Lee), a guy whose tattoos come to life (Chris Ackerman) and a woman whose touch drains the life out of anything (Natassia Malthe), should have been a visual tour de force, but instead is a display of things that should look cool, but don't.
A fight sheathed in fluttering sheets plays like an outtake from Yimou's House of Flying Daggers, while Bowman gooses the audience by having Malthe's character kiss Elektra smack on the lips, the better to drain her life, one supposes.
Still, Elektra has Garner, who's buff and bold in a film that doesn't depend on skimpy clothes to add a sexual charge to its main character. Combined with her winsomely comedic star turn in 2003's 13 Going On 30, Elektra suggests that Garner is the real thing, an actor capable of being both heartbreaking and heartwarming, not to mention heart-stopping.
Starring Jennifer Garner, Goran Visnjic
Directed by Mark Bowman
Released by 20th Century Fox
Time 93 minutes
Sun Score ***