Going to the Movies:
Elektra (2005)

Elektra (2005) Poster
Elektra (2005)

I finally did it. I found the courage and watched Elektra. According to the public opinion this movie seems to be beyond repair and allegedly even the leading actress Jennifer Garner has told her fans to not watch it. I embraced myself and pressed play…

Elektra of the comics

Elektra’s character came known to the world from Daredevil comics, where she was portrayed as the true love of Daredevil – unfortunately for both of them, turned bad. She was an expert ninja assassin working for the Hand and for crime lords like Kingpin. In the comics the character was full of pain and could-have-should-haves and finally she died – only to come back to life in the famous story “Elektra Lives Again” (fin. “Elektra elää”). And finally she became so popular a character she got many comics of her own, none of which have been published in Finland, I think. I could be wrong since it’s been aeons since I read those stories. But nevertheless, I always liked Elektra for her skill and strength but also for her tragedy.

Against that background it’s a real shame the movie makers have wasted the character on such a mundane story as this movie. You could have shown Elektra as the badass assassin, doing jobs here and there and finally meeting Daredevil and having to face her choices and start the changing process. Or show her death as the best assassin there is, only to be betrayed by her bosses just when she begins to change herself away from the world of crime. You know, anything you want with lots of tragedy and you could do it well without Daredevil.

But no

Indeed. The movie is just a wasted opportunity. They had Elektra, and they had her being played by the very popular at the time Jennifer Garner from the hit show of the time, Alias. Ok, they already had the Daredevil (2003) movie with Ben Affleck, which was such a painful movie to watch I’m happy I have forgotten most of it already.

Let’s be frank, this movie was done after the X-Men (2000) and X-Men 2 (2003) which changed how superhero movies were made and finally gave the movie industry some backbone to actually try make good superhero movies and put some money and heart into them. And one would think that after making Daredevil, which no-one can honesty call a good movie, they would gave learned at the 20th Centry Fox that you actually have to make good superhero movies for people to like them. Then again, the worst part is, no matter how much money they would have poured into this one they could not have saved the movie from its script. It’s just that bad.

The plot
(skip this if you don’t want to know, but this could save two hours of your life)

The movie begins with an assassination job where Elektra kills off more people than just her target. I suppose this is to make us believe here is the badass assassin who values life close to a zero. But in private she’s ready to call it quits when she gets one more gig too good to pass. She’s not given her target yet but is asked to spend a few days in a large building where she rans into her neighbours. A young girl breaks into her apartment and tries to steal stuff from her which is a nice excuse to get to know the handsome father, who’s young enough to be the girl’s older brother rather than father. For some reason which I don’t really understand the fact that the girl is a thief and a skilled one at that, Elektra lets the crime slip. The father doesn’t really seem to care enough as to punish the daughter or even to display any apologetic behavior towards Elektra. Inexplicably, Elektra starts to like the family.

Elektra (2005): Elektra and the family
Elektra with the family she is hired to kill.

And then, surprise, she finds out she is to kill them. I mean, so far these are the only people shown in the movie aside from Elektra’s aide back home, so there are really not that many options. She’s still ready to do it, but finally lets her sniper rifle aim down and decides to cancel the job from her part. Of course, there are more assassins coming and Elektra decides to put her own life in risk to protect this family, whom she barely knows and who to my understanding really don’t seem worth it, especially since she has no idea why they are wanted dead. Maybe they are the bad guys? At least the girl is a skilled thief.

After lots of staring far off and looking broody, the family almost gets killed but are revealed to be natural born super ninjas with superpowers. Then, just when you thought the movie had come to its end, the story continues and something, and then we are revealed the person who hired Elektra to kill the family was in fact Stick (Daredevil’s and Elektra’s mentor), who had used this family to give Elektra a push to the right side… and apparently had also called for the Hand clan of ninjas to hire their best and deadliest assassins after this family. I suppose in the world of ninjas this is sound logic.

The many failings of the movie

Let’s begin with the most obvious, which is the script. It’s lacking a story arc. You know how it goes. You have the initial setup, then something happens which makes the lead character question his or her values and then comes to a solution when the main character has evolved somehow. The problem is, in the beginning of the movie Elektra is already questioning her life choices and thinking about quitting assassination jobs. The fact that she meets the family makes absolutely no difference because she already has gone through the change.

Typhoid Mary of the 90s
Typhoid Mary of the 90s. Ok, so the clothes are pretty… *cough*

The other thing is, the script assumes you are already familiar with everything. It assumes you already know Elektra’s backstory. Ok, well most of us do, but still it would have given some nice contrast to the situation she is in right now. Now it seems she is just either bored or depressed when she gets that far off stare, instead of weighing her values – though maybe she is just bored. Also the Hand seems to be just some weird conceptual thing where these ninjas appear from, and that’s it. Ok, so I suppose you don’t need much background story if you are just hired to kill someone, but it would have been nice if they had gone through the basics as who the hell are these people and why the hell do they have superpowers. Since I’m still stuck in the 90s with my Marvel knowledge it would have been nice to get something to work with. Now, for example, Typhoid was just some chick whose only power is to kiss Elektra in slo-mo. It also seems Typhoid is not the same Typhoid Mary from my youth but some other, new person with a new set of skills.

Elektra (2005) Typhoid kisses in slo-mo.
Typhoid kisses in slo-mo.

The most obvious problem of the movie is that Elektra meets a family she somehow gets attached to, despite the fact that the girl is a compulsory liar and a master thief. I suppose she reminds Elektra of herself in her youth, but since the viewer is not given anything to relate to – nothing nice or likable in that family – you really just don’t care. And that’s the problem. Since you are not given anything to work with you just don’t give a f***. (Pardon my French.)

And then there are the contant questions: What’s her motivation?! Who are these people? Why do they want to kill this family? Why is that girl suddenly with superpowers? Do I care?

Last words

Elektra (2005): Clothing
Elektra’s work uniform.

Minor thanks go to Jennifer Garner. She really tried her best given the circumstances, but what can a girl do when life deals you a pile of this. Also her Elektra costume was totally off. I suppose they had tried to make it more believable, but it was quite unflattering on Jennifer and not even practical for an assassin. So thumbs down for the costume department, too.

Jennifer Garner was correct. Do not go to see this one. It’s a sad thing to watch an action movie where you get so bored you find yourself thinking about an essay due next month rather than concentrate on the movie. Also I just realised I have no idea how the movie ended. I’m sure I watched it all the way to the end, but my brain must have switched on powersaving mode.

What can I say, what a waste of a good character…

Going to movies:
Punisher: War Zone (2009)

Punisher (2009)
Punisher (2009).

It’s not every day I get excited about a movie full of racist stereotypes and hardcore violence. In fact, when my friend borrowed me his copy of Punisher: War Zone (2009) I was not very keen on seeing the film, but I’m happy to admit I was wrong.

Punisher – the odd one out

Even though I haven’t yet, I’m also going to discuss Punisher comics in this blog. Even though he is not a superhero – at least not in the way that I define the word – he’s part of the Marvel Superhero Universe. Something I find hard to accept, since he really doesn’t fit in.

First there is the character himself. Frank Castle’s whole family dies on a picnic when they are caught in a crossfire between some mafiosos. Frank Castle is the only one to survive and vows to avenge the death of his family. As Punisher he descends into the gritty underground world to kill every last mafioso family in the city, and everyone else who gets in his way. With his special forces trainer background he becomes a one man killing machine wiping the city clean of all organized crime, one family of crime at a time. What’s noticeable is that Frank Castle has no superhuman abilities. He’s just a man with LOTS of guns.

The other thing that sets Punisher in weird perspective with all the other Marvel superheroes is that his world is really the grittiest there can be. In fact, the comics are downright racist in my opinion. It’s been many years since I last read them, but I do remember all the different nationalities in the comics portrayed in the worst possible manner. All Italians are of course mafiosos and even their wives carry automatic guns in their purses and are ready and willing to use them. All Jamaican (?) men have dreadlocks and smoke marihuana. All African-Americans are part of some street gang. Every bad guy is drawn to look ugly with bad skin and bad teeth. And the language is even worse with all the racist nicknames for each ethnic group in use.

Internet: gay marriage vs violence
I found this circling Facebook just today. Never mind the message right now, because I chose this just to show you the source material for this movie. Punisher comics ARE extremely violent. Now that's done you can mind the message. Hear, hear!

The sad thing is, in the beginning Punisher comics were not that bad. Sure they vere violent and darker than the usual superhero comics, but the comics still had their heart in place. It was only later the Punisher comics turned into something so ugly and insulting to everyone that I stopped reading and buying them. After seeing this movie my husband told me that Punisher has become better in later years.

How to be racist without being racist

Punisher (2009): Stereotypes
Ethnic stereotypes from the movie. Then again, stereotypes are an easy way of telling the viewer instantaneously who these people are.

I must show my respect for the makers of Punisher: War Zone, because it must have been darn difficult to make a movie to suit all audiences from this racist and gritty material. How to make a true Punisher movie without upsetting every living being on this planet for racism yet still maintaining the true Punisher touches in it? By the gods, they succeeded in it! The clever thing is all the worst racist remarks are said by either the mafioso boss or by the two main villains in the movie, who all are clearly not likable guys anyhow. Especially when the mafia boss lets go with his sharp tongue in the beginning of the movie, it sort of makes clear we are going to stay loyal to the source material. Yet at the same time, since it’s now done, the director and writers have wisely let go off all the racist remarks and concentrated on the story.

The other clever thing is, the main villains of the movie are without race. Ok, they are Italians, but they could be of any race, since they are such characters on their own, it would be pretty ridiculous to describe them only as being Italians. :D The villains are Jigsaw (Dominic West), a pretty boy, who gets his face redone by Punisher, and his brother Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchison), who is at least as crazy as his name implies.

Punisher (2009): Jigsaw & Loony Bin Jim
Jigsaw & Loony Bin Jim. Shoud this portray them as Americans or maybe the American dream gone wrong?

From pathetic to somewhere fantastic

Punisher (2009): Soap
The movie includes, of course, Punisher's friends like Martin Soap (Dash Mihok). Mihok was an excellent choice for the role.

The plot of the movie is in all its simplicity and with only very small spoilers as follows: Punisher (Ray Stevenson) is going after one mafioso family and kills them all – except for pretty boy Billy, who survives being severely cut by a glass crushing machine. The doctors try to save his Good Looks(TM), but since they used skin from a horse and apparently a staple gun instead of stiches to put his face back together, the end results are not quite as handsome as they used to be. Billy is maybe just a bit devastated and changes his name into Jigsaw. In a clever move, the writers have left out the story of how Frank Castle became Punisher and just tell it in few sentences and one flashback. Why bother spending time on that since everybody knows it already and it’s probably been done several times. Anyway, in hopes of getting his revenge on Punisher, Jigsaw goes and frees his totally-out-of-this-world-crazy brother Jim and together they get almost every crime syndicate to stand with them against Punisher. Involved in the movie is also a widow and the child of an undercover cop Punisher accidently shoots among Billy’s thugs.

Punisher (2009): Micro
Another one of Punisher's friends is Micro (Wayne Knight), who finds Punisher all his weapons. Here seen taking care of his mother (Lynne De Bel).

The weird thing is, this movie starts out a bit pathetic. It seems the  actors haven’t quite known yet how to approach their characters and the movie starts just a bit clumsily. It’s not bad, but it’s not very interesting either. Maybe it’s just the problem of having to introduce everybody involved before you can really get into the story. But once the hunt is on (it starts with that first and very sudden missile explosion – I laughed out loud) the movie gets close to excellent.

It seems at this point the actors and everyone in the team have really found the rhythm of the movie. The villains let it loose big time. Instead of being just crazy and disturbing, Jigsaw and Loony Bin Jim turn into comedians with their overly bombastic acting. The highpoint for them is when the two of them sit in a car alone, and soon later go to visit all the other crime syndicates to ask for their help in taking Punisher down. The image is so ridiculous. This is especially great since at first I thought Loony Bin Jim was just a stupid character and I really didn’t get what the actor was trying to accomplish. In the car and scenes following that, the character works great. And same goes for Jigsaw. In the beginning Jigsaw seems just a stereotypical bad guy and as such he’s not very interesting. In fact, without his brother he’d be nothing. I would have hoped Jigsaw’s actor or maybe the writers could have given more thought on how to portray him turning from Billy with Good Looks(TM) into Jigsaw. Now the transition, the ultimate going-mad-monent is lost. Then again, he didn’t seem quite that sane even to begin with, so maybe that explains it…

Punisher (2009): Loony Bin Jim and Jigsaw sit in car
Loony Bin Jim and Jigsaw sitting in a car. From this scene begins their highpoint in the movie. Notice Loony Bin Jim squeezing his grippers.

“What, Pullo is Punisher?”

Punisher (2009): Ray Stevenson as Punisher
Ray Stevenson as Punisher.

Yes, Ray Stevenson, Pullo (fin. bottle) from TV show Rome, plays Frank Castle/Punisher. At first when my husband pointed it out, I was rolling my eyes. You serious?! But once again I was wrong in my judgement. He is perfect for the part! I remember Stevenson only from Rome, but I really liked his character and thought he was fantastic. As for Punisher, the square jawed human tank of the comics… I didn’t see Stevenson fit the role. He just doesn’t look like Frank Castle and he has too much heart to be that killing machine human tank. But in fact, it was only a good thing. I think Stevenson’s performance was the only thing that gave soul to the movie. The thing is Ray Stevenson looks quite rough and therefore is believable as a police tactics trainer and ex-military man, but at the same time he has really expressive, deep eyes. Even though Punisher does kill villains in the most sadistic ways (like really, turning on the glass crusher when there is a man in there – ok, so he didn’t die, but still) at the same time he managed to seem like a very likable guy who was with the good guys and you’d almost hope he could become a new dad for the dead undercover cop’s daughter, because of how tenderly he seems to deal with her, and the sadness in his eyes. An especially good preformance since the mother and the daughter weren’t very good and couldn’t get as deep into their characters as Stevenson did.

Punisher (2009): Punisher looking at the daughter of the dead undercover cop
Punisher looking at the daughter of the dead undercover cop. You might not notice it, but there's actually a faint smile there.


I must mention just two more things, and the first one is the lighting of this film. Since the movie is so dark and gloomy and takes place during night, also all the sets happen to be dark and gloomy. There is a danger the whole movie turns into a dark and bit depressed with all its dark themes. Therefore it has been an interesting choice for the film crew to use very strong coloured lights, painting whole buildings bright green with light, or alleys with blue light. At first it was a bit of a visual shock, but I grew accustomed to it quite soon and even liked it. The only point when it bothered was in the church, which looks like an Egyptian bazaar by night with all its light cable wrapped palm trees. Perfect for an Egyptian bazaar but not so much for the church. I think they might have tried to get bit of the same kitchiness that’s seen in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet but didn’t quite get it. But otherwise, I liked the strong colours.

Punisher (2009): Church
They call it a church, I call it an Egyptian bazaar. (Well fine, here it still looks quite moderate. Just wait until they show Punisher sitting on the bench.)


And the last thing I need to mention is the violence. I have nothing against a good action flick with a “normal” amount of violence. Making a Punisher movie, it is pretty much given there will be a lot of gritty, graphic violence, since it’s present in the source material, too. The comic is also filled with sadistic violence, which is where I draw the line. Thus the movie, too, is filled with sadistic and very graphic violence. Very deservingly the movie is suitable only for people of 18 years or over. YET somehow, and this I can’t explain, the violence didn’t bother me like it should have. I have no idea how it is possible. Maybe it was because all the violence was there only as something that happens as expected, instead of something that is underlined and glorified, like in many other movies. Somehow the director Lexi Alexander took off something from the normal imagery of movie violence that bothers me otherwise and made it tolerable to me. Later I heard she in fact hates violence herself and wasn’t even that interested in directing it in the first place because of its excessive violence (How Did This Get Made? # 20: Punisher: War Zone). Maybe that’s her secret. (By the way, that podcast is really good. Listen it.)

Lexi, if you ever read this, thank you. You did a marvelous job and I’m very happy it was you making this movie and not some crazy loves-violence-dude.

Punisher (2009): Loony Bin Jim axing questions
Loony Bin Jim axing questions. Yes, that's correct. This is an extremely violent and sadistic movie, but as I said, somehow director Lexi Alexander has managed to make it tolerable for someone like me, who doesn't enjoy sadistic violence.

Final thoughts

I’m positively surprised at how good this movie is and I’m definitely going to buy it for myself. (Thanks, Mikko!) Now, don’t get excited, this is not an excellent movie, compared to movies in general, but for a Punisher movie I find it hard to believe there could be a much better version than this, considering the source material. And that being said, you shouldn’t think this is a bad movie in any way. Making a Punisher movie must be really difficult since you are always juggling on the edge of good/bad taste and what is appropriate. Also the racism and the violence must be quite scary for the movie production and distribution companies, because with bad luck you can end up upsetting every ethnic group there is and also drawing unpleasant attention to Marvel’s direction, making them angry in turn.

So as a Punisher movie this is excellent. The character, the mood, and the storyline are all spot on. I wasn’t supposed to like this kind of movie, but I did. And I could even take the splatter type violence. AND the movie was surprisingly funny.

Not the movie for the first date, nor the second, but otherwise two thumbs up. :)

Punisher (2009): Not a first date movie.
Punisher (2009): Not a first date movie.

All images, except for the two first ones, are screencaptures from the movie Punisher – War Zone (2009).

P.S. My DVD box claims this movie came out in 2009, but IMDB.com says it came out already 2008. In case this version I saw differs from the one shown in movie theaters, I decided to refer to the movie with year 2009.