Elektra: Unrated Director’s Cut (DVD)

I sing the body Elektra.

After it received a critical and financial walloping upon its release, was anyone clamoring for a new, extras-laden director’s cut of Elektra? At least one person was: Director Rob Bowman (The X-Files: Fight the Future). Thanks to the film’s hurried production schedule, Bowman alleges his dissatisfaction with the theatrical release, and wanted to go back and take the time to finish the movie. Now that he has, it’s back on DVD, joined by an insanely thorough collection of bonus features.

After returning from the dead, skilled martial artist Elektra (Jennifer Garner, Alias) runs from her past and makes a name for herself as the world’s most feared hired killer. While waiting for her next job, Elektra makes friends with adolescent girl Abby (Kirsten Prout, Once Upon a Christmas) and her hunky father Mark (Goran Visnjic, ER).

All is not well, however, because a clandestine criminal organization called the Hand has arrived in search of Mark and Abby, with some supernaturally-powered thugs at their disposal. Led by the cold-blooded Kirigi (Will Yun Lee, Torque), the Hand also has ties to Elektra’s past. It will take all of Elektra’s strength and skills to save the day, not to mention her sexy red ninja suit.

So, what’s different in this unrated director’s cut? Those hoping to see the title character do some serious slicing and dicing might be disappointed. Although there are a few new violent (but still non-bloody) shots, the biggest addition to the film is a closer connection between Elektra’s adventures and the memories of her childhood. Although she spends most of the film in slugfests with ninjas and super villains, Elektra’s real battle is against her personal demons and her traumatic past.

In the center of all this is Jennifer Garner as the title character. Garner does what she can with the script, and she mostly gets away with it. Because Elektra has had such a troubled life, she’s emotionally distant, even when socializing with Abby and Mark. When it comes to the big emotional outbursts, such as when her mentor Stick (Terrance Stamp, Bowfinger) turns his back on her, Garner either plays it too low-key or overly melodramatic. When the action kicks in, though, that’s when Garner really throws herself into the role. Like in Daredevil and Alias, Garner does most of her fighting and stunts, and it’s always a thrill to see her kicking and punching with the best of them.

Elektra’s friendship with Abby only heightens her internal conflict. The script suggests that Abby could eventually grow up to become a cold, ruthless killer just like Elektra. The problem with this is how Kirsten Prout plays the character as basically a nice kid. She breaks into Elektra’s house early on, but doesn’t do any harm. Beyond that, we’re told that she’s a troublemaker, but we never really see it. Abby’s case isn’t helped by the, for lack of a better word, stupid things she does. Like whenever Elektra tells her, “Stay here and be quiet,” she doesn’t stay there, and she cries out for Elektra, giving away her position the enemies. You could argue that’s how a real kid might act, but it strikes me as sloppy, clichéd writing.

Speaking of which, the villains here are just as bad. We’re told that the folks from the Hand are evil, but we never see them do anything very rotten, and aside from one meeting in a boardroom, we get no sense of how far their empire extends. The Hand’s various agents, loosely based on Marvel Comics characters, serve mostly as targets to be knocked down by Elektra during the fight scenes. Tattoo has a bunch of crazy tattoos all over himself that he can bring to life, Typhoid Mary can kill anyone with a kiss, and Stone is as hard as, well, a stone.

My biggest beef about the film is that there’s no sense of geography. Elektra meets Mark and Abby while staying at a quaint house in the woods. They then hide out with Elektra’s friend at his quaint house in the woods. Our heroes next reunite with Stick at his ancient martial arts school, represented by a bunch of quaint cabins in the woods. Then, it’s off for the final battle against Kirigi at Elektra’s childhood home, which is, you guessed it, a quaint house in the woods. There’s never a feeling that the characters travel from place to place. Elektra goes through quite the emotional journey in the film, but she doesn’t have a physical journey to accompany it.

It isn’t until about a third of the way through the movie when something supernatural happens, in this case a ninja exploding into a poof of green smoke. Until this point, the film takes place in a mostly realistic setting, with little to no hints that there are fantasy elements to it. Perhaps this was Bowman’s intent, to throw a big surprise at the audience, but instead of a shock, it feels more like a change in tone that comes out of nowhere.

Audio/visual quality here is solid, with clean transfer and excellent sound, especially the DTS track. The movie itself might not be much on serious drama, but the bonus features make up for that. Disc one has a commentary with Bowman and Editor Kevin Stitt. Here, they discuss how the film had a rushed schedule, and why they made the changes they did for this DVD. This continues onto disc two, where, in two documentaries, we get an untainted look at the filming of the movie. See how Bowman tried to keep the exhausted, overworked crew going, knowing he only has a few weeks to get the entire thing filmed before Garner and Visnjic had to return to their respective TV series. The second documentary emphasizes the almost absurd attention to detail that goes on in the editing room, as Bowman and his team debate the merits of every single shot in the film. Bowman and Stitt return to provide commentary on a group of deleted and extended scenes. They really speak volumes, however, by not commenting at all on Ben Affleck’s deleted cameo as Matt Murdock, his Daredevil character. The “Elektra: Incarnations” documentary goes back to the beginning, as comic book artists and writers talk about their experiences working on the character. With interviewees such as Frank Miller, Brian Michael Bendis, Greg Rucka, and more, this doc is a must-see for anyone who enjoys Elektra’s comics. Conversely, the “Greek Mythology” doc is like sitting through one of the more tedious Western Civ lectures in college. Rounding out the extras are two trailers, some multi-angle raw footage, and a collection of still galleries. This is one of those rare cases where the bonus features are more satisfying and entertaining than the film itself.

The set also comes with an exclusive 22-page Marvel comic, Elektra: On the Rise, written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, penciled by Rick Leonardi, inked by Palmiotti, and a cover by Amanda Conner. The story fills in the gap between the ending of Daredevil and the beginning of Elektra, and as such, it has a similar tone to both movies. At one time, few artists were able to capture a sense of movement on the comics page like Leonardi could, but in this new work, it seems he’s slowed down. Still, the comic a light, breezy read, and it’s a thoughtful inclusion for this set—especially if it entices newcomers to give today’s comics a try.

Elektra offers some cool martial arts action and some nutty supervillains, but even in a director’s cut, it’s still not much in the way of a coherent story. That’s too bad, because after seeing all the intense amount of work that went into making this movie, turns out Elektra’s story really is a tragedy.

The Verdict

The movie? Guilty. The bonus features? Not guilty.

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