THERE'S SOMETHING blurry and vague at the heart of "Elektra," and I'm not just talking about the climactic showdown between the superheroine of the title (Jennifer Garner, looking like she's auditioning for a spot on the next Victoria's Secret TV special) and her evil ninja nemesis, Kirigi (Will Yun Lee), who runs digitally smeared circles around her as a blizzard of white bed sheets swirls in the background.
I'm also talking about critical plot points, such as how exactly Elektra was resurrected from the dead after suffering seemingly mortal wounds at the end of "Daredevil," the 2003 movie based on the comic book series that first introduced her character. One possibility is that this story actually takes place before the action of that film. This, of course, isn't clear. Then again, Elektra is shown in flashback lying on a slab as her blind-yet-all-seeing mentor, known as the Stick (Terence Stamp), rests his healing hand on her lifeless-yet-sexy belly. Ah, that explains it.
Other blurry 'n' vague bits include the following: Why does Elektra, a coldblooded hit woman by profession when we first meet her here, suddenly change her mind after being hired to assassinate a stranger, Mark (Goran Visnjic), and his daughter, Abby (Kirsten Prout)? Is it because her would-be victim is tall, dark and handsome, or because he cooked her Christmas dinner and plied her with wine? Or is it because the girl reminds Elektra of herself as a child? (Flash back to hazy scenes of the death of Elektra's own murdered parents.) Maybe it's because Elektra, another dark, tortured superhero -- and aren't they all these days? -- is good after all, and only needed to have her maternal instincts jump-started to discover this. There's also a lot of fuzzy, pseudo-Taoist nonsense, courtesy of the Stick -- who trained Elektra, then booted her out of his warrior camp in the woods -- about finding "the way."
I'm sorry, but blurry, vague, hazy, fuzzy and smeary may sound like five of the Seven Dwarfs, but they have no business being in a movie based on a comic book, a medium known for being bold, punchy, graphic and full of vividly drawn details. At bare minimum, you'd expect the fight sequence to be moderately watchable, not so under-lit and rapidly cut that you can't really tell who's hitting whom and with what.
I'll give the movie this: Kirigi's henchmen are semi-cool and remain truest to the comic-book spirit. Employees of a coalition of underworld types known as the Hand, who pursue Elektra when she becomes Mark and Abby's protector (for reasons that must remain murky in order to avoid spoiling the movie's one interesting twist), include Typhoid (Natassia Malthe), a human vector of contagion who brings, quite literally, the kiss of death. Her set piece is a scene of girl-on-girl action that seems designed to appeal to the Stuff and Maxim magazine demographic. Then there's Tattoo (Chris Ackerman), a dreadlocked rock star dude whose body art has the ability to animate itself, leading to some moderately expensive-looking special effects; Stone (Bob Sapp), who appears to be made out of said material; and the unfortunately generic Kinkou (Edson T. Ribeiro), whose deadly super power, based on the pronunciation of his name as "Kinko," seems to be the ability to collate and staple his enemies.
Okay, he's not so cool.
As for the rest of the movie, what it suffers from most is the sense of offhand storytelling that lies halfway between creative laziness and cost-cutting sloppiness.
"You really kill people for a living?" asks Abby of Elektra at one point.
"Yeah," our heroine replies.
"It's what I'm good at."
"That," says Abby, in what amounts to an assessment of the film, "is messed up."
ELEKTRA (PG-13, 96 minutes) -- Contains martial arts violence, assassination, a sexual allusion and some obscenity. Area theaters.