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Marvel Movies Project: Elektra

Movie poster for Elektra (2005).

Remember last post when I was saying how of all the Marvel movies I’d watched so far, only Blade: Trinity and X2 would pass the Bechdel Test? Well hey, look at this — it’s a movie with a female lead! A comic book movie … about a woman. And not only is a woman the main character, a teenaged girl is the second most important character! This movie is like a unicorn or something.

I remember back when Elektra was released, I went to see it and thought it was terrible. Upon watching it again last night, I have changed my opinion a bit. It’s still not very good, but terrible is probably too harsh. For the most part, it’s visually interesting; I particularly liked the way the filmmakers sometimes used brief flashes of red to show Elektra moving through the darkness. The Vancouver area scenery is lush and mysterious as always. The story, about a legendary female warrior who will play a role in the eternal battle between good and evil, is engaging enough. The characters, on the other hand, are mostly lacking. Elektra and Abby, the young girl she’s protecting, have spark, and a couple of the villains — Typhoid and Tattoo — do some cool tricks. But everyone else in the film is fairly generic, from Goran Visnjic as Abby’s dad/Elektra’s love interest to Terence Stamp (whose voice I can no longer hear without thinking of his work as Jor-El on Smallville) as the grey-haired wise man figure, to Will Yun Lee as Elektra’s main antagonist.

One of the things I originally really did not like about this movie was the fact that they took Elektra, solitary unemotional badass, and essentially made her a mom. “Why must a female character only find fulfilment through motherhood?” my self of eight years ago asked. There are aspects of this I still don’t like very much, but mostly my perspective has changed. Now, I can see the good in the fact that instead of the traditional story about a man with daddy issues, we get a film about two “motherless daughters” with some mommy issues. (I felt the same way when I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild: a quest story where a young girl goes looking for her mother.) Elektra not only helps Abby cope with the absence of her mother, she even gets to avenge her own mother’s death in the end. I also quite like the fact that there’s a superhero movie where a female protagonist serves as mentor to a future heroine. Abby’s idolization of Elektra is kind of adorable: stuck with a weighty destiny in a male-dominated world, Abby clearly craves a female role model. So, when Elektra — who is basically the perfect role model for Abby’s situation — shows up, she goes Mini-Me. Aww.

All that said, though, there are things I hate about the way Elektra’s gender comes into play in this movie. For starters, the satiny corset costume she wears for her most important fights is ridiculous (though admittedly not more ridiculous than comic book Elektra’s outfit). Fortunately, she only wears it in a couple of scenes, both of which, perhaps coincidentally, are shot in a way that calls to mind either a Victoria’s Secret ad or a Meat Loaf video. I can’t decide.

Then there’s the way the film is marketed. See the poster above: the tagline “Looks can kill” is obviously awful and stupid. Really? Elektra kills with her looks? Here I was thinking she used knives. See also the description of the movie in the iTunes store: “Superstar Jennifer Garner proves that looks can kill as the sexiest action hero ever to burst from the pages of Marvel Comics.” Ick. Based on this, it sounds like Jennifer Garner’s hot body in her battle lingerie is apparently the only reason to watch this thing. Hey Hollywood! How about making a movie about a female superhero and marketing it, I don’t know, to women? Too revolutionary? Here’s hoping Scarlett Johansson can use her clout do something about this situation if a Black Widow movie ever makes it onto Marvel’s list of confirmed projects. The fact that nothing has been announced yet is discouraging, though.

Marvel Movies Project: Daredevil

Daredevil (2003)

After the huge hit that was Spider-Man, the next Marvel character to make his way to the big screen was blind lawyer Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil, the Man without Fear, in 2003. Daredevil is a much less popular character than Spidey, of course, and Daredevil the movie unsurprisingly didn’t come anywhere close to matching Spider-Man‘s box office performance. This is not only a reflection of the two characters’ relative popularity; it also reflects the quality of the two films, as Daredevil is unfortunately one of the weaker entries in the Marvel movie genre. (I should note that, for this rewatch, I went with the theatrical version of the movie. People kept telling me the director’s cut was far superior so I watched it a few years ago and concluded that actually, it’s not that much better.)

It’s too bad, because Daredevil is a pretty cool character and this movie has a semi-decent cast. Ben Affleck, who seems like a good guy and has become a very good filmmaker in the last few years (Argo was one of my favourites of 2012), stars as Matt Murdock. It’s not one of his greatest performances — safe to say Affleck might go back in time and erase 2003 if he could: his other big movie that year was Gigli — but it’s also not his fault he has to deliver terrible lines like “I hope justice is found here today … before justice finds YOU.” The late Michael Clarke Duncan is quite menacing as Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin — I totally believe he could throw Ben Affleck across a room, too — and Colin Farrell gives an enjoyably psychotic performance as Bullseye. Jennifer Garner is good as both versions of Elektra: early Elektra, who’s a typical superhero love interest, and the revenge-obsessed post-father’s murder Elektra. (And doesn’t her stance on the poster bring to mind that “male superheroes posed like female superheroes” meme?) In some ways, this film works better if you view it as an origin story for Elektra; overall, though, there isn’t enough focus on her arc to make that totally effective.

The major problem I have with the movie is that it can’t decide what it wants to be. It starts off trying to be all gritty, with a muted colour palette and the miserable Matt Murdock’s sad life of isolation. But then it becomes a cartoon with Matt and Elektra’s absurd fight in the park, which is one of the most ridiculous meet cutes ever. Bullseye is also more on the funny side of psychotic than the scary side. Personally, I’d have preferred it if they’d stuck with the darker version of the story, because that’s more how I, being most familiar with the character from Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker’s runs on the comic, see Daredevil. Instead of going for the full on noir version of Daredevil, the movie goes with a watered down emo take on the character, complete with a training montage of Elektra stabbing sandbags set to an Evanescence song.

Ah well. Despite its flaws and general silliness, this movie is fairly fun to watch. If I saw the blu ray on sale for under $5, I would consider buying it.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Daredevil in the movie world at this point is the situation with the character’s film rights. 20th Century Fox, which produced Daredevil, needed to get another Daredevil movie in production by October 2012 in order to hang on to the character. They did not — though they had something in the works — and so the rights have now officially reverted to Marvel. Interestingly, at one point, Marvel is said to have offered Fox more time to get their Daredevil reboot going in exchange for Fox returning the rights to Galactus and the Silver Surfer, which Fox owns as part of its ownership of the Fantastic Four, to Marvel. Fox, who appear to be firmly committed to the idea of a Fantastic Four reboot, declined. It seems both 20th Century Fox and Marvel see more potential for box office glory with the Silver Surfer than they do with Daredevil, but I think Daredevil done right could be a great movie. Let’s hope Marvel comes up with something that shows off the character’s full potential.