Take one A-list TV action starlet (Alias‘ Jennifer Garner), add a relatively obscure character created by the world’s biggest comic book company, mix in an X-Files directing veteran, and what do you get? Elektra, Marvel Comics and 20th Century Fox’s latest attempt to captivate a movie-going public that can’t get enough superhero sagas.
Audiences first met Elektra in 2003’s Daredevil, where she played that blind crime fighter’s love interest. She failed to make it out of that film alive, but that’s no big deal here. Flashbacks early in Elektra show her martial arts master, Stick, resurrecting her by dint of his occult prowess.
When Elektra comes back from the dead, she does so with a vengeance—literally. A hit woman for hire, she makes a very comfortable living assassinating anyone unlucky enough to be her next mark. But then she lands a job that requires her to wait two days for information, and her cold-blooded rhythm is interrupted. …
In the meantime, a rebellious teenage girl named Abby and her brooding father, Mark, begin to melt the icy shell around Elektra’s heart—just as the demonic agents of an evil organization known as The Hand show up to stake their claim on Abby for their own nefarious purposes.
Elektra stands on the cusp between good and evil. But as the film progresses, she inches toward accepting her responsibility to protect those who are vulnerable and innocent instead of turning a cold shoulder to them. At the very least, she begins limiting collateral damage while she’s fighting the bad guys.
Her relationship with Abby pulls the older woman out of her melancholy self-absorption, anger and hard-heartedness. Elektra sees in her young friend someone much like herself, and it awakens her maternal instincts to protect and nurture. The teenager is infatuated with Elektra’s martial proficiency, but Elektra cautions, “I don’t want you to be like me.”
Over and over again, Elektra lays her life on the line to protect her friends. Several other characters demonstrate the same willingness to sacrifice their lives for others. Mark Miller loves his daughter deeply, and he clearly wants to take good care of her.
Early in the film we learn that there is an eternal struggle between good and evil, with each side grasping for the advantage that will tip the scales. Evil is represented by The Hand, a shadowy group of mostly Asian assassins. Elektra’s master, Stick, is a stalwart ambassador of good known as The Way, and he trains a small cadre of elite fighters who resist The Hand’s evil plans. Though this portrayal of good vs. evil parallels the Bible’s somewhat, it also portrays good and evil as equal forces—something Scripture never does.
The spiritual worldview portrayed involves occult power. Stick can see the future and raise the dead; Elektra’s capabilities in the same areas are significant, though not on par with her master’s. Both sense trouble coming before it happens, which arms them with the knowledge they need to overcome their enemies. Their power is never attributed to a higher source, however. And any sense of a good and/or sovereign God is absent. Instead, personal striving and self-mastery are the keys to spiritual enlightenment and victory.
The Hand’s powerful agents apparently have demonic origin (or at least some kind of dark, occult empowerment). Stone is a huge hulk of a man who is impervious to physical attacks that he sees coming; Typhoid is a dark, beautiful woman whose noxious breath kills every living thing it touches; Tattoo is covered with images of animals—wolves, snakes, birds—that emerge from his body to pursue Elektra and Co. And their leader, Kirigi, boasts magically enhanced martial arts skills. Both Kirigi and Elektra have telepathic powers, too, which they use to arrange a time and place for a final showdown between them.
When Elektra brings Mark and Abby to meet Stick, he says, “What is this, Elektra? Some kind of penance? Down payment on your sins?” Later, however, he says she has “a pure soul.”
Elektra sports a tight-fitting, cleavage revealing costume for about a third of the film. Despite this revealing outfit, however, Jennifer Garner’s portrayal of Elektra wasn’t nearly as sexualized as Halle Berry’s starring role in Catwoman. In contrast to Berry’s hyper-sensuality, Elektra is cold and emotionless. She shares two lingering kisses with Mark Miller, but her enthusiasm for the first is lukewarm at most. Expressing her sexuality is not, for the most part, what Elektra seems to be about.
Still, Elektra goes for a swim, and we see her briefly in her bikini. McCabe tells her she needs to “get laid.” In a scene that has obvious lesbian undercurrents, Typhoid kisses her slowly and deliberately on the lips. With each second of the kiss, Elektra’s facial skin draws tighter and ages as her life slips from her (again!). The end of the film briefly shows Abby in bed in a skimpy camisole.
The violence in Elektra vacillates between comic-book style fisticuffs and some fairly gruesome death scenes. Elektra’s first victim is a security guard whom she tosses from a roof. She then assassinates her main target by hurling her sword through the chair he’s sitting in. She slowly pulls the sword out, and we see blood on the blade. Elektra’s ruthless proficiency makes it clear that she enjoys such violence. Later, her “booking agent,” McCabe, asks why she killed so many guards when she was only getting paid to assassinate one man. Stick says of Elektra’s approach to life, “You understand violence and pain, but you do not know The Way.”
Elektra skewers a ninja by stabbing him through the roof, takes out another with a large dart, then pins a third to the wall with her sword. She holds her sword to his neck to interrogate him, but he kills himself by slitting his throat on it. (This scene goes by so rapidly that you almost don’t realize what’s happened, and there’s not much blood.)
Most of the battle scenes in the second half of the film consist of bloodless martial arts melees. One exception to this is when an enemy charges a seemingly defeated Elektra, only to find her sword thrusting through him when he reaches her. (It’s shot in such a way that you don’t witness the violence directly.) When each of The Hand’s henchmen gets dispatched, they explode in a puff of yellowish-green smoke.
Neither McCabe nor Elektra can stop the bad guy Stone head on. McCabe shoots him through the door with a shotgun, and he just wipes the buckshot off his chest. Elektra stabs him with both swords, and they shatter against his body. But when a large object gets dropped on him unexpectedly, it kills him. Poof! He’s gone.
Kirigi swings his sword down at McCabe’s neck. The camera cuts away before we see its impact, but the angle of Kirigi’s attack lets us know that McCabe is decapitated. Typhoid tries to suck the life from Abby. Tattoo unleashes demon dogs that try to bite the protagonists; Mark and Abby manage to kill them with a knife and Abby’s “power beads.” Later, hundreds of snakes from Tattoo’s body wrap themselves around an unconscious Abby.
Most of the characters in the movie swear at least once, including Abby. Profanity includes several abuses of Jesus’ name, one “g–d–n,” four uses of the s-word, and approximately a half-dozen more uses of milder profanities such as “h—,” “a–” and “b–ch.”
Mark offers Elektra her choice of beer or wine; she declines. Later, they each have a glass of wine. When Elektra has a nightmare that wakes her in the middle of the night, she gets up to take some medication to help her sleep. Later, we learn that the pill she took may have been prescribed for mental illness.
Abby breaks into houses and steals things, then lies about it. She tells Elektra and her father, “I have authority issues, and I don’t take bulls— well.”
In more than one conversation with Abby, Elektra implies that there are times it’s appropriate to lie. She cynically observes, “Everybody lies, Abby. Nobody tells the truth about themselves.”
When Elektra tells McCabe that she’s going to protect Mark and Abby, he urges her not to do so, saying, “They’re already dead. Don’t go down with them.”
Elektra works hard to portray an antiheroine who’s a cool customer on the outside and tortured by her own demons on the inside. But dialogue that’s supposed to be detached and ironic is just plain silly most of the time. Garner’s ice-princess portrayal of Elektra makes it difficult to warm up to her. Add clichéd villains, serious logical flaws, moral murkiness, profanity, nonstop violence and a problematic spiritual worldview, and you get a superhero film that earns a passing grade—as in, pass on by and don’t watch it!
Perhaps nothing captures the essence of Elektra better than Abby’s interrogation of the superhero assassin. Abby asks, “Why do you kill people for a living?” Elektra responds, “It’s what I’m good at.” Abby: “That’s messed up.” Elektra: “Yeah.” Messed up? And then some. It’s why Elektra fails on almost every level.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.