Darkman is an action-horror superhero film that was written and directed by Sam Raimi, releasing in 1990. It serves as his first Hollywood studio film and according to Raimi, was intended to be his way of paying homage to Universal’s horror films of the 1930s.
Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is developing a new type of synthetic skin to help burn victims. However, he cannot get past a flaw that causes the skin to rapidly disintegrate after 99 minutes. Elsewhere, his girlfriend, attorney Julie Hastings, discovers an incriminating document that proves developer Louis Strack has been bribing members of the zoning commission. When she confronts Strack, he confesses as well as warning her that the city’s reigning crime boss, Robert Durant, wants the document.
At Westlake’s lab, Westlake and his assistant Yakitito are testing the skin when the lights go out. The synthetic skin remains stable after 100 minutes, so Westlake deduces that the skin is photosensitive. Their joy is short lived as Durant and his mobsters show up and demand the incriminating document, which Westlake knows nothing about. They search for it as well as indiscriminately killing Yakitito and beating Westlake. They burn his hands and dip his face in acid. After finding the document, they rig the lab to explode. Julie witnesses the blast as a hideously burned Westlake is thrown through the roof and into the river.
As a John Doe, he is brought to a hospital and subjected to a radical treatment which destroys his nervous system. Therefore, he is no longer about to feel physical pain. This loss of sensory input gives him enhanced strength due to adrenal overload and keeps his injuries from incapacitating him, but also mentally destabilizes him. After waking up from a coma, Westlake escapes from the hospital.
Believed dead by Julie, Westlake re-establishes his lab in a condemned building and begins a long process of digitization to create a mask of his original face, using the time to plot revenge against Durant and his men……
For a near 32 year old film, Darkman holds up really well. It goes without saying that many of the aspects of this film are reminiscent or inspired by similar ones of the time. For starters, there’s the obvious comparison to Robocop. Not only due to the way in which Peyton is brutalised into becoming Darkman but just the general vibe of the film as well. Then, there’s Tim Burton’s Batman. That might sound random but as soon as you hear the very noticeable score by a certain Danny Elfman, you’ll get it.
Liam Neeson delivers an appropriately eccentric performance. It’s equal parts over the top and theatrical as well as being very restrained and dramatic, an impressively layered showing. Certain moments are let’s say, meme worthy for sure. I had to wonder how I had never seen some of the wacky things in this film before. This film obviously has plenty of horrific elements and imagery but I would have loved for it have gone more uber violent and horrific. The kills in the film and general gore are pretty disappointing.
Unsurprisingly, the effects that look the most dated are the ones that are done using CGI and blue screen. The practical work, numerous props and sets created for the film all still look excellent, in particular the gruesome prosthetic used to give Peyton his charred face.
I wasn’t a big fan Julie as a character. I never felt too invested in her and Peyton’s relationship and she’s pretty dumb a lot of the time. For example, she barely questions Peyton’s sudden reappearance and clearly odd looking appearance and behaviour.
Overall, if you haven’t seen or heard of Darkman then I highly recommend checking it out. Sam Raimi created a film that is so many different things all at once and somehow made it work. Not to say it’s perfect by any means but it certainly leaves a memorable impression.
The Final Score - 7/10