Darkman (1990) / Action-Horror

MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, gore, and language
Running Time: 96 min.

Cast: Liam Neeson, Frances McDormand, Larry Drake, Colin Friels, Ted Raimi, Nelson Mashita, Bruce Campbell
Director: Sam Raimi
Screenplay: Chuck Pfarrer, Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, Daniel Goldin, Joshua Goldin
Review published April 24, 2003

Reportedly, director Sam Raimi (Spider-Man, A Simple Plan) wanted to film the old comic hero, The Shadow, but couldn't get the rights, so he created a darker, more bleak version in Darkman.  It's much darker than its big-screen predecessor from 1989, Batman, and this blend of horror and action will probably thrill fans of Raimi's campy filmmaking of the grotesque, while turning off those looking for regular superhero fare. 

Liam Neeson (Schindler's List, The Phantom Menace) plays Dr. Peyton Westlake, a scientist on the cutting edge of discovering long-lasting synthetic skin.  An unscrupulous city developer is looking for an incriminating memorandum in Westlake's office, so he sends his top henchmen over to interrogate him, in the most torturous way possible.  They subject his body to extreme punishment, then leave him for dead by exploding the building his laboratory is in, but miraculously, Westlake survives.  However, he's not the same man, as he is scarred beyond recognition, his body is impervious to pain, and his personality has taken a darker turn.  With the help of synthetic masks he makes, he tries to walk among us as a normal man, but his skin doesn't last long in the light.  With his chameleon-like skills and new powers, he vows to take down those who destroyed his life.

Sam Raimi imbues his comic book type superhero with his knack for camera angles, montages and other tricks of the filmmaking trade, making Darkman a stylishly dark action flick.  A semi-comedic style and some choice in-jokes keeps the tone from becoming too distasteful to endure, but this is definitely not a film for those who are squeamish about ultra-violent fare. 

All-in-all, it's a watchable, but greatly flawed film that gets more ridiculous in the action department as the film draws close to the end.  It never really reels you into the characters, who are miscast in almost every department, and although it's a fine ensemble of actors, none of them are very appealing in their respective parts.

Although many compared it to Batman at the time of its release, a more accurate comparison would be to RoboCop, with its tone of sadistic violence tempered with tongue-in-cheek humor, and the storyline of retribution against the corporate bigwigs that took all but his life away.  However, Darkman lacks the delicious satire of RoboCop and the technical brilliance of Batman, which makes it strictly for those who enjoy pulp b-movie horror, which Raimi made a career out of up to that point.

-- Followed by two straight-to-video sequels,  Darkman II: The Return of Durant (1994) and Darkman III: Die Darkman Die (1996)

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo