November 1, 2012

Darkman (1990)

Directed by Sam Raimi. Starring Liam Neeson ("Peyton Westlake"), Frances McDormand ("Julie Hastings"), Colin Friels ("Louis Strack Jr."), and Larry Drake ("Robert Durant"). Rated R. Body Count: 14 and a warehouse full of thugs.

Source: Region 1 DVD (Universal Studios)
Running time: 01:35:18
Country: USA

DARKMAN is basically a superhero movie, but to truly pin it down and classify it as something specific would be hard. It's got a little bit of everything: horror, comedy, sci-fi, action, and romance. That being said, DARKMAN seems like the result of a young and hungry filmmaker at the height of his creativity being unleashed onto the world with a decent budget and tons of freedom to do whatever he wants. Director Sam Raimi throws a bunch of ingredients into the pot with this movie and takes it as over the top as he can, as evidenced by the film's opening warehouse shootout sequence. Nunchucks, uzis, multiple dummy deaths, a prosthetic leg that turns into a machine gun, and a henchman wearing an eye patch. And car crashes. In a warehouse. In the first five minutes of the movie.

The character of Peyton Westlake (a.k.a. Darkman) is a tragic one with an ironic origin. Westlake was a scientist who specialized in creating artificial skin with the hopes of constructing new facial features for disfigured people. On the verge of a breakthrough, although still very much in the experimental phases of his project, Westlake and his assistant are attacked by a powerful criminal named Durant and his henchmen, with the aftermath being Westlake's lab burnt to the ground and his karate-fighting assistant dead. Westlake escaped with his life but suffered severe burns and became hideously disfigured. Turns out his lawyer girlfriend (Frances McDormand) was in possession of some incriminating evidence and he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.


Westlake eventually wakes up in the burn unit of a hospital covered in bandages and under the supervision of medical personnel (including Jenny Agutter!), but he escapes in a state of shock and confusion, returning to his lab to find it charred and in shambles. Once he puts two and two together and comes to terms with what he is, he adopts an appearance that pays homage to the Invisible Man and uses his studies to create disguises so he can infiltrate Durant's criminal organization and destroy them from the inside out. Problems arise, though, considering Westlake's experiments are flawed, so it results in him having only a small window of time to do what he needs to do in the outside world before his disguises disintegrate and shenanigans ensue.


As far as Durant, he's basically not the guy you wanna fuck with. He's balls deep in criminal activity and runs with a crew of Hyena-like henchman who are quite memorable and entertaining to watch despite the fact that you're supposed to root against them. One of the henchmen is played by Sam Raimi's babyfaced brother Ted. Another actor of note in this movie is, of course, Liam Neeson, who went on to much bigger things before eventually coming full circle and having a career resurgence as a modern day Charles Bronson. I've personally never been a huge Neeson fan for some reason, but he's great here and, because of how he's directed and shot by Raimi, seems to be unintentionally channeling Ash from the EVIL DEAD films at times. The only thing missing is Bruce Campbell. Oh, wait...


Getting back to Neeson, he engages in the usual Raimi-esque slapstick violence and pulls it off very successfully, and you don't realize how great Neeson's eyes are until you see him trying to emote from behind a mask. The frantic camera movements and creative camera shots that Raimi incorporated as early as the first EVIL DEAD are ever present throughout this film. If you took a drink every time Raimi utilized a Dutch angle in this movie (camera tilted to either side), you'd have a nice buzz before the movie was half-way over. As a whole, DARKMAN is truly Raimi firing on all cylinders. That probably won't mean much to you if you're not a fan of his, but as someone who's admired his films since I was a little kid, it's interesting to go back and revisit this one and see just how much Raimi's stamp is all over it. The film does slow down a bit during the second act, but the back end of the film takes the insanity of the opening sequence and basically stretches it out over the entire final act with multiple showdowns between Darkman and the villains in various locations.


My earliest memories of DARKMAN aren't from the movie itself but from the pages of Fangoria, as photos of Darkman's burned face were featured quite prominently back in the day. That being said, the make-up effects in this are excellent. Also great is the Danny Elfman score, which fits the movie perfectly and adds a surreal, fantastic atmosphere to the film. As a whole, DARKMAN is truly Raimi firing on all cylinders. That probably won't mean much to you if you're not a fan of his, but as someone who's admired his films since I was a little kid, it's interesting to go back and revisit this one and see just how much Raimi's stamp is all over it. The film does slow down a bit during the second act (not in a bad way), but the back end of the film takes the insanity of the opening sequence and basically stretches it out over the entire final act with multiple showdowns between Darkman and the villains in various locations. DARKMAN, overall, is a hard movie to dislike, regardless of whether or not you appreciate what Sam Raimi brings to the table, for the simple fact that it delivers the goods in nearly every way.

Score: 7.5

5 comments:

  1. Agree this movie is ultra sam raimiesque! The extreme close ups, the amped up emotions, the dutch angle, the fast forwards, the montages, the collage of images...pure Raimi.

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    Replies
    1. Indeed. Thanks for the comment, sir!

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  2. Still right up there with my favourite superhero films of all time. A great, fun film. Excellent review!

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  3. Still the best superhero film not based on previous material. Raimi Rulez!

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