Out of the films that regularly appear on “Worst Superhero Movies, Ever” lists, “Elektra” (2005) ranks as one of the best. While it admittedly has some confusing story points, it’s a notable improvement over the slick “Daredevil” (2003), where Elektra (invented for comics in 1981 by Frank Miller) is a nothing character. This spinoff features a lot of natural woodsy settings, a strong performance by Jennifer Garner in the lead role, a score by “Buffy’s” Christophe Beck and confident direction by “The X-Files’ ” Rob Bowman.
Granted, there are some Aughts action cliches on display, such as side-trips into temporary slo-mo, quick-cut fight scenes, and flashbacks that regularly illustrate the hero’s mind space. The most notable stylistic orgy is the climactic superpowered martial arts battle between Elektra and Hand warrior Kirigi (Will Yun Lee). It’s in a mansion where the furniture is covered with sheets. Those sheets float through the air amid the fight. I actually thought it was fairly neat, but it’s definitely in that of-the-era milieu.
I’m not the biggest Garner fan, but she’s very good here as an independent assassin – or, euphemistically, someone who works in “layoffs and payroll cutbacks,” as per one of the better one-liners from the screenplay by superhero veteran Zak Penn and two others. “Elektra” begins when she kills someone clearly painted as evil, but for her next mission, she’s asked to murder an apparently innocent single father and his 13-year-old daughter – Goran Visnjic’s Mark and Kristen Prout’s Abby Miller.
The switch flips, and she’s a protector from that point forward. Garner – a TV action star on “Alias” at this point — has good chemistry with both Visnjic (later an “ER” staple) as a potential love interest and Prout as a surrogate daughter.
The flashbacks become confusing because it seems like Elektra is remembering giving birth to a child, whom she later lost. But upon reflection, she is recalling herself as a child, when her mother was dying. A child calling out the name Elektra during these flashbacks creates the confusion.
Some viewers might also be confused by the quick flashback showing Elektra being resurrected from death by her mentor/father figure Stick (Terence Stamp); I was familiar with her backstory from “Daredevil” Season 2 (2016), so that helped.
The present-day story is tight, though, as the Hand aims to kill Elektra and – as we find out midway – claim Abby, because she is “The Treasure.” Like Elektra herself, The Treasure is one of those prophesized warriors that good and evil try to get on their side.
When Elektra fights the warriors of The Hand, Bowman’s film is in its element. The mystically infused Hand warriors all have special powers: Typhoid (Natassia Malthe), a woman who sucks the life out of plants and people around her; Stone (Bob Sapp), who is near invincible; and Tattoo (Chris Ackerman), whose ink comes alive as real animals. Now, c’mon, you have to admit that’s pretty cool.
I appreciate that a lot of “Elektra” takes place in natural outdoor settings, a refreshing change from “Daredevil,” which too often exists in a CGI’d cityscape. And while butt rock rears its head over the closing credits, the film mostly lets Beck’s score set the mood. These things set a vibe that says “Elektra” is not as much of a slick product as other Marvel films of the era.
It still is a commercial product, of course, and the backstory elements could stand to be clearer. But “Elektra” is a slightly elevated product thanks to Garner’s commitment to Elektra’s moody journey, excellent cast chemistry, cool baddies, and a nice visual and sound palette. It doesn’t belong on a list of elite superhero movies, but nor does it deserve a place among the worst.