“Liam Neeson and Frances McDormand star in this explosive, action-packed thriller from director Sam Raimi (‘Spider-Man’). Dr. Peyton Westlake (Neeson) is on the verge of realizing a major breakthrough in synthetic skin when his laboratory is destroyed by gangsters. Having been burned beyond recognition and forever altered by an experimental medical procedure, Westlake becomes known as Darkman, assuming alternate identities in his quest for revenge and a new life with a former love (McDormand).”
“Darkman” is rated R.
“Darkman” is fun for several reasons. First of all, it is unapologetically violent. When Westlake undertakes his quest for revenge against Strack and Durant, it is brutal. We see him trick the bad guys into killing each other. We see guys shot, blown up, and impaled. When he kills one of them in a spectacular fashion, he yells, “Burn in hell! Ha ha ha!” You would never see Batman or Superman do that.
Darkman has unique abilities, too. Due to his injuries, he feels no pain. However, that lack of sensation also makes him prone to erratic, violent mood swings as well as adrenaline boosted strength. But Westlake is also a brilliant scientist who is able to make false skin masks that look like anyone. The catch? They only last 30 minutes in sunlight. How many superheroes are brilliant, violent, and unstable? That makes “Darkman” all the more fun.
I also have to mention the soundtrack by Danny Elfman. While it could be easily interchanged with the soundtrack to “Batman,” it’s still fun. With the moody pipe organ or the big orchestral moments that accompany action scenes, it’s a fun soundtrack to listen to.
“Darkman” had an excellent cast, too. This is the first film where I really took notice of Liam Neeson. He played Darkman delightfully over the top. From the pre-accident Westlake to the maniacal Darkman, he played the whole thing straight but still captured the comic book spirit of the character. Neeson when on to do bigger and better films, but I knew him first as “Darkman.” Frances McDormand also went on to bigger movies, but she makes a great damsel in distress as Julie Hastings. She holds her own with Lois Lane and Vicki Vale. Then there was Larry Drake as Robert G. Durant. Up till then I only knew him as the friendly mentally impaired guy from “L.A. Law,” so it was quite a shock to see him play the villain in “Darkman.” He’s exceptionally evil and over the top, but it’s definitely a memorable role for him. Also look for Raimi favorites like his brother Ted Raimi as Rick and a cameo by Bruce Campbell.
As fun as the movie is, “Darkman” does occasionally cross the line from camp to stupidity. One example is when Darkman is dangling from a helicopter and then runs in super speed, complete with cartoon sound effects, across the top of a truck. There are other moments, like scenes where Westlake loses it, which can be considered stupid if not taken in the right spirit. Raimi is doing a delicate balance with the campiness in the film. While he succeeds more often than he fails, it definitely seems like he learned his lessons here before going on to “Spider-Man” and hitting the right tones.
If you’re a fan of comic book movies, then this is required viewing for you. And if you’re a Sam Raimi or Liam Neeson fan, then this is a required addition to your collection. I also think fans of “RoboCop” will love the comic book action and R-rated violence. And while this movie spawned some sequels, you’re probably better off passing on them. They’re not nearly as good.
Unfortunately, there are no bonus features included on this DVD. I would have loved to have seen a retrospective, commentary, or ‘making of’ featurette. It’s a real shame none were included.