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— by Ryan J. Downey

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Jennifer Garner needs to get something off her chest.

Regardless of what it may have looked like at the end of "Daredevil," Elektra isn't dead. In fact, she's alive and well and kicking some serious ninja butt in a movie of her own.

 Jennifer Garner on Elektra's return

"That's a common misconception, that she died, but she wasn't dead," Garner insisted, taking a break before enduring a grueling stunt sequence on the chilly set of the "Elektra" movie.

"Apparently we didn't explain that very well. But at the very end of the movie, when Daredevil found the necklace that said 'Elektra' in braille, that was his message from her saying, 'I'm alive. I'll come back ... I'll have a spinoff!' "

FOX studio executives were so intent on launching Garner's character into a film of her own that during production on "Daredevil" the Ben Affleck comic-book flick that made over $100 million last year despite mixed reviews from critics they had writer/director Mark Steven Johnson film Elektra spinning her trademark Sai swords on a rooftop across from Daredevil when he finds the necklace.

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 Photos: On The Set

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Johnson ultimately cut the shot, which was done with a stunt person posing as Garner, afraid that the character's "death" at the hands of Colin Farrell's Bullseye would lose its emotional impact.

But now, a new director is at the helm (Johnson retains an executive-producer credit) and the Marvel Comics heroine lives. "We did not see her actually die in 'Daredevil.' Even if she flatlined, there is a plausible point that we can bring her back," insisted Rob Bowman, whose credits include the "X-Files" movie, several episodes of the television show and "Reign of Fire."

"But we don't bring her back through conventional means. We bring her back through... um, a higher form of martial arts," he said. "I'll just be cryptic like that. That's all I can say."

The director's attention on this particular day was focused on the rain machine, which soaked the fake pine trees on his soundstage so thoroughly that everything started to smell like mildew; and on making sure that every stunt felt real and served a genuine storytelling purpose.

Ben Affleck is nowhere to be found on the set of "Elektra," which will focus on the character's training by a band of ninja assassins known as the Hand. Bowman won't have her leaping from rooftops and isn't relying heavily on special effects, opting instead for crazy camera angles and a more character-driven story, with movies like "The Cooler" and "21 Grams" as his reference points.

 Garner on Elektra's darkness

"We have our share of blowing things up, I've learned a few new weapons and I'm definitely, definitely fighting. It's not like I'm in a period piece, in a corset, or talking Shakespeare," Garner promised. "But it is very much driven by Elektra's darkness and what happens when she comes back to life, and what that second life means: whether it's redemption or whether it's a dark place from which you can't be redeemed. It's very dark and honest."

To that end Bowman is employing similar lighting techniques (and the same cinematographer) he used on "X-Files" to lend the movie a look in line with its story. His goal, at least partially, is to reinvent the way comic-book movies are done. "Because Elektra is a tortured soul, and in the middle of an emotional crisis, I thought this would be the right way to go," he said.

And what makes Elektra so dark? Well, during the course of this film, we'll learn that she kills people for hire. In the comic books she does a lot more for hire, too, although the film won't be exploring that. "I would rather follow the story and not focus on the gore or the fact that she sells her body," Garner admitted. "[In the movie] she's not a prude, she just isn't interested. And I love to fight but it kind of kills it for me to see people bleeding all over the screen. As long as a ninja dies I don't really care how much blood there is."

This isn't meant to imply that "Elektra" has gone soft or will abandon its source material — far from it. In fact, the movie is relying heavily on the Marvel comic books, from putting Garner in a red outfit more true to the character than the black leather she wore alongside Affleck, to the introduction of several supporting players taken right from the page.

"I have the comics pasted up all over my trailer, because it's as though we have our storyboards right from the comic book," Garner said. "You'll see the Hand, Stick, Typhoid Mary; we definitely fold them into our story."

"Typhoid Mary is kind of loopy and armed with this enormous power to kill people," Bowman said of the villainous girl portrayed by model/actress Natassia Malthe. "Because of her beauty she can lure you in right up to that poisonous kiss."

Terence Stamp, whom comic book fans remember fondly as General Zod in the "Superman" movies, has taken on the role of Elektra's martial-arts mentor, Stick. "He is the grittiest guy in the movie, the smartest guy, and I'm sort of making him into a prophet," Bowman explained. "He is the perfect example of 'tough love' and the architect of this journey. Stick feels like there is a gem of light buried inside Elektra's black soul."

 "... Elektra would just as soon kill you as look at you."

Ah yes, Elektra's "black soul." Is there any hope for her at all? Neither Bowman nor Garner will tell, but if there is, it will likely come in the form of a father (played by Goran Visnjic of "ER") and his daughter (newcomer Kirsten Prout) and the bonding the three of them do in a cabin around Christmastime.

A cabin, of course, that gets attacked by ninjas.

"I love playing this role, I love how lethal she is, how completely different she is from me, and how hard it is to find a crack or a crevice in her heart or soul," Garner said, shortly before being called back onto the set. "She's pretty cold. When we're shooting, Rob is always saying to me, 'Too nice, too nice! Go back, there's too much heart, go back.' And I love that!"

"Because, he's right, Elektra would just as soon kill you as look at you. And I would play her any day of the week and twice on Sundays."

"Elektra" is due in theaters next year.




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