Darkman (1990)

It’s been a while since my last post. Between finding a new job and Pokémon GO, I haven’t had much time for anything.

Sam Raimi is one of my favorite directors, ever. Some people dismiss him as just a B-movie schlock director and lots of people hate him solely because of how Spider-Man 3 turned out, but he holds a special place in my heart. Sam Raimi comes across as a guy who just loves making movies. He’s like a demented Spielberg, focused on making movies fun and entertaining rather than just churning out cash grabs for an easy paycheque. More than a decade before 2002’s Spider Man, Raimi took a crack at the superhero genre with his first Hollywood film, 1990’s action/ comedy/ drama flick: Darkman.

mv5bmtc5mzuxmjk4nf5bml5banbnxkftztgwntezndk4nje-_v1_sy1000_cr006781000_al_Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is a scientist researching synthetic skin cells to be used for skin transplants or reconstructive surgery. His cells are perfect replicas of regular skin cells except for one major flaw. If exposed to light, they only last 99 minutes before dissolving. His girlfriend, Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand) is an attorney that comes across a document that incriminates some of the city’s untouchable gangsters. Once word gets around that Hastings is keeping the letter hidden, mob leader Durant (Larry Drake) and his goons go looking for it and find it in Westlakes’ lab. After finding it, Durant disfigures Westlake before blowing up him and his lab. Left for dead and transformed into a hideous monster or a person, the scientist formerly known as Westlake goes on a roaring rampage of revenge, using his scientific knowledge to help him destroy everyone who was a part of ruining his life all while trying to reunite with the love of his life.

Darkman screams classic Raimi. Quick zooms, whip pans, and dutch angles frame cooky and cartoonish characters in ridiculous situations. This was released between Evil Dead 2 (arguably the best Evil Dead movie) and Army of Darkness (the other arguably best Evil Dead movie), so it’s often overlooked in Raimi’s career, but it definitely fits in between the horror-comedy of Evil Dead 2 and the slapstick comedy and action of Army of Darkness. It definitely has some laughs sprinkled throughout, but at it’s heart Darkman is an action movie that also pays homage to the old Universal monster movies of the ’30s. The overacting and make-up effects make it feel like an old timey movie and once Westlake sets up a new base of operations in an abandoned factory, you really get a sort of mad scientist and spooky recluse vibe from the film as he tinkers away at perfecting his experiments.

One thing that made me enjoy Darkman so much is that is is wholly original. Darkman was created by Raimi for this movie. He wasn’t an existing property that was cashed in on. And Darkman himself is no hero. There’s no villain threatening to destroy the world or level a city, Darkman is out doing what he’s doing for revenge and nothing else. Westlake and his lab were destroyed by thugs, and now he wants two things: His old life back and revenge. He’s a simple but engaging character who transforms from someone we feel bad for into someone we really root for. He’s not a protagonist who just punches bad guys really hard either, Darkman has a couple minor powers given to him, but the majority of his work as Darkman uses the synthetic skin he’s been developing. The synthetic skin makes for a great plot point in the movie, as he can create skin masks of other people, making for lots of great “is he isn’t he” moments and some interesting tension when you can’t tell who is who. Unfortunately for Westlake, the prototype skin only lasts 99 minutes in light before melting, making any disguises he uses incredibly time sensitive. Fortunately for us, this ratchets up the tension even more with a clock ticking behind each of Darkman’s daytime missions. I admire the ending Raimi gave us, too. It could have been a much more paint-by-numbers Hollywood ending, but he left enough unresolved to leave a bit of a bittersweet but oddly satisfying taste in your mouth once the credits start rolling.

darkman.jpg

From a technical standpoint, the movie is mostly great. All the practical effects are fantastic. Liam Neeson looks absolutely disgusting in his burned and melted face make-up (not to mention his acting is pretty solid when he isn’t chewing the scenery), and the synthetic skin  bubbling and boiling once it has hit 99 minutes in the light is done flawlessly. The stuntwork was also amazing, with tons of practical stunts to watch and a couple to gasp at. There’s a helicopter chase scene that I’m sure anyone who has seen Darkman will remember, because it’s hard to forget an actual person hanging off a helicopter winch flying through the air. All that being said, the computer generated and computer aided effects look pretty bad. Raimi was never known for his good green screening, and I think Darkman has the worst I’ve seen in a long time. Normally, subpar chroma keying would come across as charming in a movie like this, but a lot of it was bad enough that it took me right out of the movie.

I liked Darkman overall, but there were a handful of things in the movie that kept me from enjoying the film to it’s full potential. It’s definitely fresh and fun to watch, but now that I’ve seen it once, I don’t think I’ll ever get the urge to watch it again or buy a special edition Blu-Ray. And considering the sequels neither include Raimi’s directing or Neeson starring, I doubt I’ll ever seek those out. I would recommend Darkman to anyone who enjoys B-movies (especially those who are suffering from superhero movie fatigue) or is a fan of Sam Raimi’s work. Past that, I don’t think your average Joe Blow moviegoer would really enjoy or become a fan of Darkman. If you dig original, oddball superhero movies that are filmed like they just popped out of a comic book give Darkman a shot, and let me know what you thought!

-David

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