Over the past few years, it's been a pleasure to see some Marvel Comics characters get the big-screen treatments they deserve. The X-Men series, the Spider-Man films, and Ang Lee's underappreciated Hulk all found ways to transplant their iconic heroes to film while still staying true to comic-book tradition. But with other franchises, like The Punisher and Daredevil, Marvel has stayed true to another kind of tradition: The long stretch in the '70s and '80s when anyone with two nickels and a camera could license a Marvel character for a movie.
The Daredevil spin-off Elektra shoves Frank Miller's eponymous cold-blooded assassin into a PG-13-friendly adventure. It's not a comfortable fit, but the film isn't really about comfortable fits. Its most striking image is that of star Jennifer Garner squeezed into a red bustier and high-heeled combat boots, looking like the world's deadliest hooker. And though she's proven herself a remarkably adaptive actress elsewhere, Garner looks uneasy in the part, in or out of her superheroine costume. The role needs a steely, inhuman reserve, and Garner's innate likeability works against her. Even when she's taking aim with a bow and arrow, she looks like she might be thinking about kittens.
As the film opens, Garner has conveniently risen from the dead and decided her resurrection gives her an opportunity to become a highly paid assassin. But her conscience gets the better of her when she's assigned to kill a father (Goran Visnjic) and his 13-year-old daughter (Kirsten Prout). Attempting to rescue them instead, she's unexpectedly aided by her old sensei (Terence Stamp) and opposed by a mysterious band of ninjas working for an organization called The Hand.
Action ensues, most of it lifted badly from better recent films (e.g. Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) by veteran X-Files director Rob Bowman, and staged with all the energy of used chewing gum. A villain code-named Tattoo, who naturally enough has the ability to make his tattoos come alive, enlivens the proceedings for a while. But Garner's main opposition comes from Will Yun Lee, playing a baddie with the superhuman ability to speak only in clichés. "We meet again!" he exclaims when they meet again. "It ends now!" he shouts shortly before the film ends. If only he'd thought of that one sooner.