300 – A Review

There is an old story about a man named Gideon who once had to free his nation from the massive army of his Midianite oppressors. He could have assembled quite an army of his own, but instead his God told him to whittle down his numbers. In the end, he ended up with around 300 men against completely overwhelming odds, so that should they be victorious, the credit couldn’t go to them, but to the God in whom they trusted.

At the Battle of Thermopylae, the Hot Gates, with the Spartan army of 300 amassed against the “millions” of the Persian forces, we see a parallel story. Based on another work by one man movie generator, Frank Miller (Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One – which was the basis for Batman BeginsSin City, Elektra), 300 adds another exhibit in the case of him being one of the most influential comic book creators of all time.*

In a way, 300 is like watching the movie Titanic: you know the ending before the movie starts, so you’re most interested in how you get there. The gorgeous cinematography painted dark, brooding landscapes straight from Lynn Varley’s palette. Every shot infused with either slow-motion drama or foreshadowing portents, the movie follows one man paying the cost for the freedom of his world.

“What should a free man do?” –Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey)

Baptized in the fire of combat from an early age, King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) knew who he was, his purpose, and mission from the beginning. Constantly tested on his journey of discipleship to form his Spartan reserve, he was thoroughly a Spartan, a warrior-king, as well as an idealist. He often found himself at odds with his own government–personified by Dominic West’s (The Wire) Theron, whose pockets jingle with (30 pieces?) of Persian coin–because since “No Spartan, slave or king, is above the law.” Torn between their time-honored traditions and his duty to Spartan precepts – Leonidas broke their laws to serve a greater law, a greater way: “Never retreat, never surrender.” Choosing instead to pursue the spirit of the law, obeying the values of honor, duty, and glory.

“Trust not in men. Honor the gods.” –Oracle

Standing in opposition to him is the Persian god-king, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro, magnificently chewing any scenery he draws near).

Xerxes is “the accuser”, the one who prowls about like a roaring lion devouring all the kingdoms of the world as his own. Though he claims that it is his world, he betrays a fatal flaw – hubris. Xerxes temptation of Leonidas was simple: all King Leonidas would have to offer is a token of earth and water or to kneel at Xerxes’ feet. A simple gesture that would spare his life, the life of his men, and the life–and way of life–of his fellow Spartans. It was a three-fold temptation as Leonidas was: 1) tempted by his own desires (women and money); tempted by putting his God to the test (going his own way because his gods had failed); and tempted by promises of power (the kingdom would be his as warlord).

Yet Leonidas remains firm ( “there’s no room for softness. Not in Sparta. No room for weakness.”). Unfortunately, he finds his Judas in Ephialtes (Andrew Tiernan), a hunchbacked figure not capable of fighting alongside Leonidas and his men and not being able to live up to what he thought would redeem him, he chooses to side with Xerxes.

“Freedom isn’t free at all. It comes at the highest cost. The cost of blood.” –Queen Gorgo

Even knowing of the betrayal, that all was lost, King Leonidas accepted his fate. Death in service to the kingdom, three days in the hot gates of hell, was the price of freedom. Until the final shaft pierces him and he dies in a cruciform position, he remained a warrior-king whose message and way of life caused many to choose to follow him into battle. His death lead to the unification of a people and the movement of a greater idea for how to live.

Leonidas is a tragic Greek hero, one who lives by a mad hope for future glory even in the face of immortal darkness. It’s the Gospel he clings to. The gospel message is about accepting freedom. It is about a God-king humbling himself, becoming poor and weak – human – in order to free the oppressed from poverty and powerlessness. He becomes a victim in our place (at the hands of a corrupt power no less) and transforms the condition of bondage. This Gospel speaks to the disinherited, the poor, the disenfranchised , the oppression of the weak by the powerful. The gospel is an offense to the rich and powerful. It’s the death of their ideas of wealth and power, those priorities. We can’t be afraid of freedom.

“Spread the word … let each among them search their souls.” –Leonidas

300 tells the story of their victory. The story isn’t their death, but how they chose to live. A complete testosterone-fest, in the spirit of Gladiator, though more brutal and visceral an experience. Frank Miller’s art and dialogue once again leaps from the screens. 300’s poetically-intricate battle scenes had me leaving the theater ready to shout at ev
eryone around me and march on a neighboring city.

*For the sake of staying focused, I’m going to choose to ignore the whole Asia, Middle East, and Africa united can’t beat even a handful of Europeans implications (and the whole, as a friend called 300 “Frank Miller’s misogynistic phallo-centrism finds an idealized output in Sparta”).

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

Time and time again I am asked about comic books, often encountering skepticism and prejudice about them as a medium. Too often they are seen as the domain of children and, let’s be honest, nerds with no lives. The perception–for the most part, correct–is that they are juvenile, 4 color adventures of spandex-wearing, muscle-bound he-men and heaving-bosomed she-women filled with trite dialogue and situations. When I encounter this attitude, I issue a simple challenge. To show how far the medium has grown, I ask that the person read one or both of the following books, each written nearly twenty years ago: Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns or Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Both redefined what could be done in what my grandmother called “funny books” and developed an audience far greater than the insular and fairly small pool of comic book readers.

First collected in trade paperback form in 1986, The Dark Knight Returns changed the rules of the medium forever. In four issues, Frank Miller explored the idea, the myth, of Batman and the symbolic power he (and all heroes) represent. Put simply, heroes were beacons in a dark world and never had the world been portrayed as darkly.

Audiences, especially comic book readership, had matured and grown more sophisticated. For too long, stories risked being dismissed as naive and relegated to irrelevance. Audiences were ready for stories with adult themes and situations and the complexities of anti-heroes. For better or worse, The Dark Knight Returns ushered in the age of “dark” comics. “Gritty realism” was the phrase most tossed about at the time, now taken for granted in how stories are told. The reinterpretation of traditional heroes for this new audience soon swept industry wide. Some reinterpretations worked and some didn’t. The ones that did succeeded because the writers remembered what it was that made the heroes what they were. They retained the essence of the hero, the mythology.

Frank Miller employed a lot of the story-telling style that he experimented with in his mini-series Ronin. His art owed a lot to the cinematic style of Lone Wolf and Cub artist, Goseki Kojima. The Dark Knight Returns quickly supplanted the 60s era, Adam West’s silly TV show version, in the cultural consciousness. The popularity of the book provided the heat for the 1989 release of Tim Burton’s Batman. It is the spirit of The Dark Knight Returns that Batman Begins was filmed with (in fact, Batman Begins takes a lot of its story from Frank Miller’s follow up to The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One.)

At the heart of the story, The Dark Knight Returns is about finding one’s purpose. It is the journey of a hero realizing what he was born to do and being faithful to that calling. There are other places you can go to get a detailed rundown on the intertwining storylines of the comic. The important are of emphasis lies in the study of the journey of the hero.

Batman has always been a dangerously focused character. The death of his parents at the hands of a criminal gave him a mission in life, but how he went about his mission has led writers to depict him as either a revenge-driven psychopath (continuing to punish the man who killed his parents) or an ardent pursuer of justice (pursuing a higher calling and mission). So this hero’s journey has always been as much internal as it was external.

The world of The Dark Knight Returns is indeed a dark one: run by a fascist, when not inept, government (both federal and local); societal values turned topsy-turvy (where the release of a murderous villain, the Joker, is heralded as a good thing); and Gotham City a victim of urban sprawl and decay, overrun with crime and gangs and rotting from its center – all with a “retired” Bruce Wayne/Batman as a lion in winter.

The journey of the hero is Christ’s story, the ultimate story, and the larger the hero, the more arduous his journey must be. As the story opens, Batman has been gone for ten years. There is a sense of “Messianic expectation”, as if everyone was waiting for his return. In a sense, the people of Gotham City are waiting for his second coming because their world seems too dark and without hope; and Batman offered a symbol of hope. Though gone for only a few short years, scholars re-examine him and declare him a myth; not believing that he, in fact, ever existed despite the eye witness accounts. On Bruce Wayne’s end, he meditates on (his) death, on what would make a fitting end for him. Pondering death has a way of making one reflect on their life and assess how it was lived and ought to be lived. After all, the hero’s journey isn’t complete without the final story.

To reach his end, Batman must run an escalating gauntlet of his greatest foes, foes which reveal much of the nature of his battle and career. First up was Two-Face. In Harvey Dent, former District Attorney who had the left side of his face scarred by acid by a criminal, Batman found a reflection of himself. His disfigured face, Dent became convinced, revealed his dark side. He used a silver dollar, with one side scarred, as his trademark calling card. It represented the choice each of use has to make between good and evil. Batman often sympathized with Two-Face for battling his inner demons – though it was a battle eventuating in him being consumed by them.

Next up was the street gang known as the Mutants. The Mutants were an army of petty criminals-cum-gang. They were the ever constant threat of crime in the ordinary, the faceless hordes that was the focus of most of Batman’s campaign against crime (as opposed to the occasional “supervillain” that he fought). The other thing that Batman’s mission tended to inspire was disciples called to join with him in his mission. From the various incarnations of Robin to the Mutants converted to the “Sons of the Batman”, his life called others to the mission. The shrine he kept to the second Robin, a fallen soldier in their war, reminds us of the cost of discipleship and the mission.

The rise of the super hero triggered the rise of the super villain. Thus, with the return of Batman came the return of his greatest enemy, the Joker. The Joker–the mad clown prince and homicidal genius–was Batman’s ultimate foe, the personification of evil that people are capable of doing to one another. However, ironically, the Joker was still playing the “old game” by the “old rules”, a villain out of step with the times; almost more interested in wanting to re-live old times than anything else.

Lastly, Batman faces the system itself: the “empire” seen as social and governmental impotence and as embodied by Superman. With Batman’s message spreading, the apocalyptic imagery takes on a life of its own, as if the whole book built toward some final battle. The detonation of a magnetic pulse weapon sends society into chaos. Stalled cars, crashing planes, it was like a scene out of Left Behind. In rides Batman on horseback, with bystanders only remembering the power of his voice, like a sword piercing their hearts.

In these “end times”, superheroes were essentially outlawed, not permitted to operate without license. License that Superman has and Batman does not. The idea of Batman becomes too big, too much of a threat to the powers that be. He challenges them and defeats them with unexpected methods and is thus labeled a threat to the empire. And has to die. The image of Superman and Batman entwined in battle is an interesting one. Both are messianic figures in their own right. Together they form a more complete picture of Justice – keeping in mind the verse found in Romans 11:22 (“Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God”).

The idea of Batman bears further investigation. His origins revolve around the idea of being inspired by a bat to instill fear into the hearts of criminals. He recognizes the power of symbol. The bat, during the course of the story, takes on totemic value, one that Batman draws power from. At first it seems to be just the symbol of fear, but it is actually the symbol of his calling, his destiny. On a strictly human level, Batman represents “the common man’s will to resist” crime and wrong-doing. In a lot of ways, however, this totemic bat spirit is Batman’s own messianic consciousness becoming aware of his mission.

The religious language of the book only intensifies the sense of Batman as mythic icon. Batman returns during a rainstorm, which he refers to as his baptism. His mission is often called his “holy war” against crime. An approaching storm–symbolizing Batman’s return–is described as the wrath of God. In fact, in a lot of ways, Batman embodies the wrath of God, the idea of His (punitive) Justice. Batman is comparable to Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry character, an Old Testament vision of punishment. It’s easy to forget that wrath is love in action: Batman defends the weak, the oppressed, and the “least of these”.

The story of Batman’s second coming, death and resurrection is a powerful one – a story that draws on an older one. Though written some twenty years ago, it stands the test of time, a testament to the renewing and enduring themes within the book. The Dark Knight Returns is a landmark work for any medium, so much so that it transcends it.

Like all good myths should.

All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder

“Episode One”

Writer: Frank Miller
Artist: Jim Lee
Publisher: DC Comics

The All-Star line is DC’s answer to Marvel’s successful Ultimate line. The premise is to get rid of the baggage of years of continuity and essentially start over outside the know “universe” of the characters to re-tell a lot of the old tales in a modern setting. They are trying to mine fresh stories from familiar and dated material so it becomes a game of bringing a fresh perspective, and new spins, on the classic stories. Classic stories, mind you, not sacrosanct scriptures (this is actually a reminder to myself whenever I read re-treads on tales that I grew up reading and loving). To tell the stories, the creators have to keep the essentials (the heart) of the well established mythos, while not necessarily sticking too closely to them.

The All-Star formula (much like the Ultimate line formula) is simple: take two fan favorite creators (writer Frank Miller and artist Jim Lee), team them on the book of an iconic character, and let them re-work the history and spin the mythology as they want. Frank Miller after years away from the spandex set, working on books like Sin City and 300 (which is also preparing to make the leap to the silver screen), returns to the character that he helped refocus in the late 80s.

Jim Lee remembers all the lessons that made him such a popular creator over at Image Comics, drawing beautiful, painfully well-endowed women, often posing (scantily clad) for pages on end. Not really delving into the character nor propelling the plot, but giving something for the presumed teenage male fanboys to gawk at. Though he probably takes his cues from the script that he is given.

The story is a familiar one. The circus comes to Gotham City, featuring among its acts, the Flying Graysons. The young aerialist, Dick Grayson, has caught Bruce Wayne’s attention. Vicki Vale, the Lois Lane-styled reporter, prepares for her first date with millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, which finds her overly dressed for the circus. Vicki Vale vacillates between a ditzy dame (“I have a date with Bruce Wayne” whatever shall I wear?) And something just shy of the tough broad reporter she’s meant to be. Dick watches his parents get gunned down and Batman arrives in time to save him from a gruesome fate at the hands of the Gotham police department.

This book may not please a lot of fans. For a start, Frank Miller finds himself operating in a post Warren Ellis and/or Mark Millar runs on the seminal book, The Authority, which kind of upped the ante when it comes to the superhero genre and what passes for edgy and action. You can kind of feel Miller pressing a little too hard around the edges. Plus, this book is supposed to be accessible to new and young readers. Um, not exactly Frank Miller’s forte when dealing with the dark knight. The best you can expect is a Sin City-lite.

Once more we have a taste of the candy-coated nihilism (kind of a Nietzsche for pop consumption) that makes Batman the ultimate hardass. The book has the feel of taking place early in the Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns universe, though there are hints that the focus of the book will be Robin. Miller gives Robin an origin that resonates more with Bruce Wayne/Batman, witnessing his parents gunned down at the circus where they performed. However, with Batman as the uber-mensch, taking brooding intensity and self-reliance to an extreme, he’s unable to be in true relationship with others. He’s remote and often sub-human in his responses and how he deals with people. And not the best parental figure/model for a newly orphaned child. Frankly, there is a seeming creepiness to the fact that a wealthy playboy (read: single guy) is keeping his eye open for young talent. This air of creepiness is matched by his alter egos willingness to draft and train boy targets in his war on crime. It will be interesting to see what sort of Robin Miller writes: a young Batman in training/a young soldier or the comic/humanizing Robin who resists being molded in his mentor’s image.

“On your feet, soldier. You’ve just been drafted. This is war.”

In this telling of the origin of their partnership, Robin is drafted into this war, he doesn’t pester Batman to train him in order to seek justice for his parents’ untimely death. With Robin being so pivotal to the interpretation of Batman, one can’t help but address the issue of drafting one so young into this war on crime.

Many people look around our society and see that we are in both a cultural and spiritual war (one a reflection of the other). The issue that we then have to struggle with becomes the matter of how long do we wait to teach our children about the rules of combat/engagement in this war. Advertisers target kids as young as four to train them in rampant consumerism. Sexual imagery dominates the cultural media landscape to such a degree that it is nigh unavoidable, training kids up in society’s definition of beauty (self-image) and sexual relations. As corruption works its way throughout society, we can’t afford to sit on the sidelines hoping that it doesn’t get to us (or moving at the first sign that “bad elements” are getting too close to our neighborhoods). The younger we realize this and are trained in how to engage this battleground, the better off we may be.

All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder is a little uneven, probably due to the high expectations that a Miller/Lee team-up on Batman would generate. The terse dialogue wasn’t working for me, but it might be a matter of giving Miller room to develop the proper tone for the book. There is enough of a sense of intrigue and potential to let me be willing to buy the hype machine (trained since the age of four consumer that I am) and ride out at least the first story arc.

Who am I kidding?

It’s Frank Miller on Batman. I’ll be buying this.

Batman: Year One

“Year One” (issues #404-407)
writer: Frank Miller
artist: David Mazzucchelli
published by DC Comics

Book infoThe year 1986 proved to be a pivotal year in the modern era of comics. Back in the halcyon days when comics cost only 75 cents (and I remember being upset by that price jump), several books came out that changed the face of comics. Crisis on Infinite Earths. The Dark Knight Returns. Man of Steel. Watchmen. Swamp Thing. This was a great time to be collecting comic books. Frank Miller, fresh on the heels of his seminal The Dark Knight Returns, turned to the main title, Batman, to write basically a mini-series within the series called “Year One.” Between these two works (along with Alan Moore’s Watchmen), interest in comic books was revitalized, even among non-comic book readers. In fact, so much interest was stirred about Batman that the Batman movie, long languishing in “development hell”, was put onto a fast track, coming out just a few years later (1989).

Years later, this book is serving as the inspiration for relaunching the Batman movie franchise as Batman Begins prepares for its debut. (And, by the way, a Watchmen movie is currently in the works.)

This “Year One” story arc spawned a series of “Year One” issues. The premise was simple: what was it like during the first year that the given super-hero donned the tights? The issues examined the emotions that drove them to pursue the life of a hero as well as letting the reader in as they were figuring out their method. Basically, they focused on their purpose, but working it out often proved to be messy.

Miller returns Batman to his roots, including David Mazzucchelli’s Bob Kane (creator of Batman)-inspired rendition. The story is simple: Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham City after a twelve year absence after his parents’ death at the hands of a mugger; the event that triggered his war on crime. During that time, he’d traveled the world, training in martial arts and developing detective skills. The idea for Batman hasn’t occurred to him. After a botched attempt to attack the problem as “just another guy”, he’s inspired by the crashing of a bat through his window. Understanding the power of superstition, symbol, and myth, he crafts the image and legend of Batman.

However, the story isn’t about him alone. It is also about Lieutenant James Gordon, the future Commissioner Gordon. New to the Gotham City, he finds that he has to deal with a corrupt commissioner, a corrupt police force, and crime families. All while juggling his marriage to his expecting wife. So while Bruce Wayne is figuring out how to be Batman, Lt. Gordon is figuring out “what it takes to be a cop in Gotham City.”

“You’ve eaten Gotham’s wealth. Its spirit. Your feast is nearly over.” –Batman.

Gotham City, for all intents and purposes, is like man’s battle against his sin nature: all temptations and corruption. You see, there are no splashy villains in the story (though we do see Selina Kyle don her Catwoman gear in response to the appearance of a man running around as a bat). Instead there is only the corruption: the relentless, seemingly unstoppable, enemy within.

It never fails to amaze me how the stories of heroes echo the story of Christ.

Here you have a city, a world, caught up in the despair of its own iniquities. A man appears on the scene—before years of experience turn him into the cool, all-knowing, martial arts expert—who’s a “lucky amateur,” but still seems more than a man. He becomes a symbol of hope. He takes quite a beating and more than a few bullets, wounded for their transgressions. But even as he’s about his mission to “cleanup a city that likes being dirty,” he realizes that he can’t do it alone. He needs allies. A united trinity of a lawyer (a pre-Two Face Harvey Dent), a cop (Lt. James Gordon), and a vigilante (Bruce Wayne).

So, as Batman goes about his mission, others join him and in so doing, Gotham City finds out what a difference a few good men can make. Frank Miller triumphs in this bout of simple, yet powerful, story-telling.

Elektra


Click to enlargeSo, there once was a male super hero franchise that featured a strong female equal yet polar opposite. Eventually, some Hollywood suit decided that said “good girl gone bad villain” would make for a good spin off unto herself and fan boys of said male super hero would surely flock to said movie. It was simple Hollywood math: Hot chick + comic book + rabid male fanboys = hit movie (with an eye toward a franchise). It didn’t work for Catwoman (spun from Batman). [It probably won’t work in the future, so someone tell the Hollywood exec who’s thinking about this to spare us the Jinx movie (spun from the James Bond film, Die Another Day)]. It didn’t work for Elektra (spun from Daredevil).

The truly frustrating part is that, like Daredevil, they almost get it right.

Click to enlargeDon’t get me wrong, I am Exhibit A for said Hollywood math. I am their prototypical target market. I’m a big Jennifer Garner fan (grade A hot chick and star of cult/hit show Alias and perfect choice for the role of Elektra Natchios). I am a comic book junkie (fan of Daredevil comics from Frank Miller’s legendary run). And, yes, I am a red-blooded, rabid fanboy (it’s no coincidence that the last movie I reviewed was Blade: Trinity). I wanted to love this movie.

Click to enlargeDo I need to demonstrate my Elektra credentials? Owner of her first appearance, in fact, her every appearance as written by her creator, Frank Miller. Elektra: Assassin is one of my favorite comic book mini-series of all time. It is here that we learn that “The Hand”, the secret group of ninjas that trained/corrupted Elektra, view themselves as “the hand of the Beast” (thus explaining the beast imagery in the movie). I love Elektra and have long salivated at the possibility of her solo in a movie.

Click to enlargeHere’s the flaw in the Hollywood exec’s thinking. They think that if they take the Alias fans, add the comic book fans, add the Daredevil movie fans (both of us), and those fans who’ll simply go to see anything with Jennifer Garner in a skimpy outfit, that would make a great crossover market, especially if those guys take their girlfriends. There are two problems with this theory: 1) all those fans are the SAME market and 2) those guys don’t have girlfriends. Okay, cheap shot at fandom, but let’s face it, these type of movies make their money from repeat viewing. I’ll admit to seeing Batman six times when it came out. But you have to give those fans something worth watching again, something to mentally chew on beyond Jennifer Garner’s midrift.

You just won’t find it here.

There is a lesson to be learned from the movie Catwoman: don’t make radial departures from the source material. Granted, Elektra was fairly wasted in the Daredevil movie. What should have been nearly operatic tragedy instead was little more than “insert love interest here” material. In fact, watching Daredevil didn’t leave one pining for an Elektra movie.

The back story of the movie manages to make no mention of Daredevil. This wasn’t the chief offense of the movie, because Elektra can very capably stand on her own apart from Daredevil. Even ignoring the Greek myths from where she drew her name, the tragedy of Elektra begins with the loss of her father. The story of Elektra, at its heart, is about a girl who lost her way, due to the death of her father. She turns to the dark side, then finds the light through her death and resurrection. You might think that this falls into the category of “geek night out” nit-picking, but that’s the problem with the movie: I and my fellow army of geeks know the back story, so we can fill in the blanks. We bring her mythology to the table when we dine at this cinematic venture. Those left with only what the movie provides leave especially hungry. The movie doesn’t make clear any of the motivations for our heroine. Click to go to 13 GOING ON 30Jennifer Garner, who demonstrated some of her range in 13 Going on 30, looks lost in this movie, like she doesn’t get the character any more than we do. Thus we’re left with her granite faced method of emoting. The best we can puzzle out is that Elektra’s pain turns on the death of her mother, making this more a revenge flick. See, we can’t handle the subtle dynamics and themes of a girl loving her father too much, but revenge we get.

Click to enlargeThe story, such as it is, involves Elektra, high priced assassin, being hired to kill a father (Mark Miller, ER’s Goran Visnjic in the “insert male love interest here” role), in and a daughter, Abby (Kirsten Prout). She instead befriends them, seeing in the girl who she once was. Well, the girl turns out to be “The Treasure”, a unique warrior. “The Hand”, led by Kirigi (Will Yun Lee), wants the Treasure for themselves, or at least out of the hands of Stick (Terrance Stamp, another perfect choice) and his disciples, in order to tip the balance of the war between good and evil in their favor. The movie defines “unique” differently than my dictionary as Elektra, Typhoid Mary (Natassia Malthe), and Abby are all defined as either this unique warrior or the treasure. This is part of the problem with the movie: I, as the comic book geek, know who all the players are while the movie provides no real sense of them.

Click to go to BLADE:TRINITYThere are two things that Elektra shares with the other comic book-cum-movie dud, Blade: Trinity. One, it has lots of action to gloss over a lack of characterization. You have ninjas and kung fu sequences, Click to go to  HOUSE OF THE FLYING DAGGERSbut in the last year, we’ve seen grand and elegant fight sequences in movies such as Hero and House of Flying Daggers. Frenetic action and jumbled quick shots aren’t going to cut it. Two, its main villains, ninjas instead of vampires, should be threatening by themselves but are dispatched too easily (and thus don’t seem all that convincing as a threat).

Click to enlargeUltimately, this is a story of the war between good and evil, in the big picture sense, fought in the shadows. While kind of a reminder that though there are battles fought in the heavenly realms, the true battleground is often “within the heart of a single individual”. And it is individuals who tip the balance. Elektra is a lost soul, we’re told that rather than shown this, with a tragic past that she hasn’t learned to get past or make a part of her. [Comic book geeks know that it is that pain that the Hand used to get a foot hold in her life, turning her to their side for a time. The Hand is the corrupting influence, the sinful nature that she battles against. In the movie, it is unclear what exactly she is struggling against.] Evil, represented by the Hand, can lurk anywhere, even within an ordinary looking corporate office building. Elektra’s is a path of violence and pain while searching for “the way”. Though she doesn’t want to see Abby on such a path, she knows that everyone has a path that they are called to walk. The journey is the test, as “some things cannot be taught but have to be lived to be understood”. Elektra has been a resurrected into a new life learning that “your second life is not always like your first … sometimes its even better.” And though she may stumble on occasion, she gets back up. It is that battle that makes her heroic.

Any adaptation, be it from a novel or a comic book, makes narrative choices in order to get at the essence of the character and story. This was a rated-R tale that was made PG-13 and lost its way. I have only hinted at the much more interesting story that this movie could’ve told. We don’t see Elektra’s darkness that the movie hints–for example, made explicit in the comic book with her being a member of the Hand–Click to go to DAREDEVILso it is difficult to see her redemption. Like Daredevil, I liked the movie more than it deserved, probably due to a fanboy filling in what the movie fails to deliver. There is plenty of “cool” here, but not a clear or strong enough narrative to tie it all together and give it meaning. Like it’s heroine, Elek

tra needed to find its heart.