- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2005

The “Spider-Man” features made transferring comic book heroes to the big screen look easy. Last year’s “Catwoman,” “The Punisher” and “Blade: Trinity” proved it’s anything but.

The same goes for “Elektra,” an unlikely spinoff from 2003’s “Daredevil.”

“Alias’” Jennifer Garner couldn’t slip any more comfortably into the role of Marvel’s conflicted heroine. Yet the creative powers behind “Elektra” gorge themselves on too many of the comic’s myriad plotlines. What emerges might appease the fan base — or at least keep their chat-room vitriol at bay — but few others.

Elektra appeared to die at the hands of Colin Farrell’s Bullseye mid-“Daredevil,” but we quickly learn that followers of her brand of martial-arts mysticism don’t stay dead for long.

Outside reincarnation, our Elektra doesn’t have any super power, save looking ravishing in her red bustier.

She’s using her new lease on life to rake in cash as an assassin for hire, one who doesn’t care how high the body count gets so long as the checks clear.

She’s clearly suffered in life — witness numerous flashbacks featuring a domineering daddy — but beyond that, we are to take it on faith that she’s one conflicted beauty.

A chance encounter with a widowed father (“ER’s” Goran Visnjic) and his daughter (young Kirsten Prout) touches her in a way she didn’t think possible. The duo happen to be the next targets on her hit list, causing Elektra to reconsider her line of work.

Instead of killing them, she decides to save them from the Hand, a band of mercenaries also out for their blood. The ethereal goon squad thinks father and daughter hold the key to a much-coveted treasure.

Though Miss Garner barely stretches beyond her “Alias” marching orders here, she brings an undeniable presence to the project. Part of it is purely physical. She struts like an athlete, has abs of titanium and boasts lips that make Angelina Jolie’s look masculine by comparison. Their upward pout suggests anguish and rage never fully tapped by a script that too often beggars belief.

Worse, “Elektra” forgets a core lesson from Comic Book Movie 101 — give us a deliciously evil villain to savor. The chief baddie here is nondescript, though a few of his underlings make us edge up in our seats.

Director Rob Bowman’s film doesn’t know quite how to tackle the shift from the printed page to the movie screen. The opening narrative prattles on about an epic battle between good and evil, but the first half of “Elektra” plays out like a character drama, and a far from riveting one at that.

Some attempts at comic book fidelity falter in practice. Stick, the martial-arts guru played by an ultra-tan Terrence Stamp, faithfully loiters in a grungy pool hall, as in the comics. That might work over a series of rectangular storyboards, but it looks silly here.

An early set piece where Elektra defends the father and daughter against a home invasion crackles with tension. Yet the subsequent battle sequences, the reason why comic book fans show up in the first place, take forever to arrive. Once the fisticuffs fly, it’s clear that the fight choreographers behind “Elektra” can’t rise to the “Matrix” standard, let alone the wondrous “House of Flying Daggers.” The battles are all lightning-quick cuts and staccato drumming.

The Marvel machine continues this summer with “The Fantastic Four,” the trailer for which accompanies “Elektra.” The initial glimpse appears promising, but then again, so did the thought of Miss Garner letting loose on evil for 90-odd minutes.

**

WHAT: “Elektra”

RATING: PG-13 (Comic-book-style violence, harsh language)

CREDITS: Directed by Rob Bowman. Produced by Avi Arad, Kevin Feige, Gary Foster and Mark Steven Johnson. Original music by Christophe Beck.

RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes

WEB SITE: www.elektramovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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