Tenuous link between three films I watched

Or, Ruminations on Elektra, Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD, and Lemony Snicket’s An Unfortunate Series of Events

Apart from the fact that I saw these films recently, and they are of varying levels of poorness, they are linked by an underlying question: what were the makers hoping to achieve by adapting these properties?

ElektraElektra is a spin-off from a film that didn’t do that well and wasn’t received very well critically, of a character few people know about outside the comic book community. So why was the film made?

For starters, the lead is to be played by Jennifer ‘Iron Jaw’ Garner, the inexplicably adored actress with some industry ‘heat’. I’ve never seen it, but Alias did well for her, so someone thought it would be a good idea to make the film with her in it, despite her character dying at the end of Daredevil (a fact they seem to completely ignore in this film).

Also, having a sexy female in a butt-kicking action role is the big thing for movie execs at the moment, from Buffy to Lara Croft, and all the attempts in-between: Underworld and its sequel, Resident Evil and its sequel, Aeon Flux, Ultraviolet – apparently, to have a strong female action character, the film has to be awful, which is a shame.

The only other reason to make this film is because they can; the comics exist, suggesting a proven franchise, and buying a license is easier than creating something new. However, the Elektra story has been told – the whole point of Frank Miller’s Elektra tale is that there was a start, middle and finish, and that is what made it memorable. A bevy of talented writers (Milligan, Rucka, Bendis) have tried to keep the Elektra franchise going, but they didn’t add anything worthwhile to the mythos, suggesting that it’s not easy to do.

The film itself? Well, it’s so … bleugh. It’s not awful, but it’s not any good either. It’s well filmed, there are decent actors in very minor roles, and you get a simple tale told in a workman-like manner. However, you are left with the feeling, ‘What was the point of that?’ This is not a good feeling to have after you have seen a film. It should be something more interesting, more worthwhile than a shrug of the shoulders and forgetting it.

Lemony SnicketLemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events suffers from a similar malaise. You can hear the exec thinking behind it: ‘Well, the Potter franchise is huge, so why don’t we adapt any British series of books that is popular; it’ll be a sure-fire hit! It’s quirky, so it will appeal to adults. And it has Jim Carrey, doing his character thing. How can it fail! That’s my work done for the day. Get me some cocaine and some hookers.’

The film fails by not being a satisfying story. Combining the first three books into one film, the Narrative Unit (a term I just invented) we get at the end is not rewarding; the children don’t change (they just use their ‘powers’ at the appropriate moments), the adults are caricatures, and the story is more about Carrey in the villain role. There is no reason to invest any emotion in the account of these people.

The film looks great – the visual vibe created is very evocative and moody – and Carrey is a lot of fun, and the kids are perfect for their parts, but you get the same empty feeling as from Elektra: What was the point of that? You know that the story must continue, due to the narrator from the future relating the past events, and it will be just more unpleasant things happening to them, and there will be no justice for them or their relatives. With Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings, the films may be parts of a series, but they provided very satisfactory tales in their own right. The Potter films are particularly good at advancing aspects of the overall tale but telling a mini-thriller in each film that feels worthy of telling. Lemony Snicket was made because an executive thought it should be made.

Nick Fury, apparentlyFinally, we come to Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD, with David Hasselhoff.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

What a depressingly awful mess. Horrible. And it was written by David Goyer! The man who brought us the first two Blade films and Batman Begins. How is that possible? I mean, there was Blade: Trinity, which shows he is capable of unforgiveable shiteness, but this is diabolical. The dialogue is atrocious – when Clay Quartermain is killed by many HYDRA agents, he shouts, nay bellows, ‘LET US ROCK AND LET US ROLL!’ before being deservingly slaughtered. He got off lightly.

When we see the Hoff as Fury, well, I just shook my head and wept. I’m not a big Fury fan, but this was just sad. Every time he tries the Tough Guy dialogue, I cringed. I don’t know if he was trying to stretch the acting muscles he doesn’t have, but ‘Grinning Twat’ is the extent of his acting ability, and he should stick to what he knows. The only acting worse than his is the main villainess, the daughter of Baron Strucker. She hams it up like she’s been injected with pig hormones in every scene, even doing the Evil Diabolical Laughter in a completely non-ironic manner.

I thought that the production designers missed the point with SHIELD headquarters; they are supposed to be the elite espionage outfit, and they look like they working out of the factory that the Full Monty guys were sacked from. But it seems appropriate for the cheap values of something that is a television pilot; I don’t know if that was the case, and I can’t be arsed to spend anytime looking it up, but it just screams of a pilot episode for a series. The shoddy FX, the low-rent actors, the villainess escaping at the end to be the recurring nemesis, it looks like an attempt by the Hoff to have a show where he can be the cool badass on a weekly basis and go to foreign locations, if he’s lucky. The trouble is, that’s not what Fury is about. He is a driven man doing the hard job of getting the dirty work done to protect a society from the things it doesn’t want to know.

How could a SHIELD television series work if Marvel could never keep Fury in an ongoing comic? What makes them think they could get it right when the originators couldn’t? Personally, Fury works best as a background character; his cameos in the Marvel U give a grounding and consistency, but this doesn’t make for a great lead. Is the Steranko era the only time when SHIELD worked? Perhaps it is a product of its time.

What can be said is that this film is an excruciating piece of shit that shouldn’t have been made. It is yet another appalling adaptation of a comic book that only existed because, basically, Hoff wanted it. There is no other reason. Sure, there is the franchise potential and the excuse for fights and explosions and car chases, but I can only see it getting greenlighted because He’s Big In Germany said he wanted to do it.

In summary, films should only be made because they deserve it, there is a burning need for a story to be on film, there is a worthwhile reason for it to exist, even if just to be a piece of entertaining popcorn, not because someone with no creativity, but power in Hollywood, thinks it might be a good idea.

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