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‘Elektra’ just doesn’t have the right moves

Jennifer Garner stars as the shamelessly resurrected assassin with a conscience. By John Hartl

So you thought you saw Elektra, the athletic superheroine from 2003’s “Daredevil,” die two years ago. Then why is there a new movie called “Elektra”? Why not a “Daredevil 2”?

“I wasn’t killed, just really, really hurt,” explained Elektra herself — Jennifer Garner — in a USA Today interview. “The movie picks up with my recovery.”

Yes indeed, in its first few scenes the dim-witted “Elektra” quickly places itself in the shameless tradition of cliffhanger serials and horror-movie sequels, which were forever rescuing apparently deceased cowboys and shattered Frankenstein monsters from cinematic oblivion.

And there’s certainly a precedent in the Marvel Comics series of the 1980s, which also resurrected this “urban legend” after her introduction and death in an early Daredevil comic. Once she’s alive again, however, the filmmakers find surprisingly little to do with her. Following a dullsville training montage, in which her martial-arts skills are emphasized and her mentor (Terence Stamp) is introduced, she simply becomes a garden-variety paid assassin — and then an assassin on leave.

For most of the film’s first half hour, she might as well be starring in “Elektra Takes a Vacation.” She hangs out at a gorgeous, pricey British Columbia hideaway and warily gets to know the neighbors: widower Mark Miller (Goran Visnjic) and his precocious daughter Abby (Kirsten Prout), who introduces herself by breaking into Elektra’s home.

Wouldn’t you know it: Elektra’s next assignment turns out to be to kill this seemingly innocuous pair. Of course she can’t go through with it. Motherless herself, she’s already formed a bond with motherless Abby, and she’s started flirting with Daddy as well. But someone has to off these two, even if the reason seems shrouded in a mystery clearly concocted by desperate screenwriters.

In no time, Elektra finds herself defending the Millers from The Hand, a gang of ninja assassins who don’t hesitate to exercise their superhuman powers. They can slice trees in half, transform their tattoos into ferocious spying beasts, use psychic powers to track down their enemies, and then vanish in a puff when they’re killed.

The director, Rob Bowman, is an Emmy-winning veteran of “The X-Files,” who directed the silly 2002 dragon fantasy, “Reign of Fire.” The writers include Zak Penn, who worked on the “X-Men” sequel, and the relatively new team of Stuart Zicherman and Raven Metzner.

The result represents very nearly a complete breakdown of cinematic storytelling. No matter how many digital effects are used to suggest the magical qualities of Elektra and The Hand, no matter how many psychological hints are introduced (Stamp as paternal mentor, Garner as super-protective maternal figure, Visnjic as wimpy father figure), the movie fails to develop any form of dramatic momentum.

Even the action scenes flirt with tedium. Stamp is trapped by fortune-cookie dialogue, Prout struggles to break out of her strait-jacketed character, while Garner, who was the best thing about “Daredevil,” is allowed to take Elektra nowhere even remotely interesting.