Premiering in 1990, Darkman, written and directed by Sam Raimi (Spider Man Series, The Evil Dead Series) is about Peyton Westlake (played by Liam Neeson) your average scientist dedicated to his research on making synthetic skin to help burn victims. An explosion in his lab launches him into the river where he becomes maimed for life. Now as Darkman he seeks to take revenge on the people who scarred him as well as try to be with his beloved Julie.
Peyton’s girlfriend Julie Hastins (played by Frances McDormand) steals a secret document that could potentially incriminate her boss. Once Louis Strack (played by Colin Friels) discovers the piece of paper has been stolen, he proceeds to send out lackeys to recover it. While rummaging through Peyton’s lab trying to find the document, a fight breaks out between the lackeys and our protagonist. The gang beats Peyton up and leaves him there to die as they set the place ablaze. Most heroes’ origins are tragic in their own right and Darkman’s is no exception. Peyton tries with all his might but ends up getting blasted out of a window into a river.
Upon washing up near a hospital he coincidentally ends up in the burn ward. While in the hospital he transforms, the doctors in this case actually play a significant role into creating Darkman. Having been severely burned, they cut a specific spinal nerve that sends pain impulses to the brain. Being effective it still has negative side effects since it is such a radical procedure. The loss of that much sense of touch has caused his body to seek that fulfillment somewhere else, his emotions. This results in metal issues as well as immense strength due to unchecked adrenaline surging through the body. While strapped down, Peyton reflects upon the events in the lab; only aids his messed up psyche. With a sudden burst of strength Peyton breaks from his restraints and escapes. Darkman throughout the film uses his superior intellect to fight using elaborate plans to get the job done. This is where our hero differs from most, using his brains over brawns.
If you like old horror films, then you will love Darkman. Certain scenes and shots in this film feel straight out of the black and white era. A perfect example of this is when Peyton is stumbling down a dark alleyway and the angle turns into a slight overhead view. It has a classic atmosphere making it a great homage to the films of old. This is helped by an amazing soundtrack composed by Danny Elfman. It gives a very cryptic, gothic feel; I would compare it to the Batman animated series from the 90’s. Different scenes will feel like they should be in black and white rather than color. Numerous: shots, music, and imagery all come together into a perfect combination of cinematography. At first you might think that Liam Neeson would not be the right fit for a role like this; but as you start to watch you see that there would be a hard replacement for him. Darkman is a film that shows Neeson’s wide acting range; from him being a regular scientist to transforming into a psychotic vigilante hell-bent on revenge. Supporting characters do a good job as well. Robert Durant (played by Larry Drake) is a good champagne villain and plays evil well. He is persistence and determined to kill Darkman in the film and goes to great lengths to do so.
It is a shame that this film is not more popular; it has all the elements of being a hit. The combination: score, acting talent, cinematography, and plot all blend together to make one amazing film. The performances are believable in which they do not seem forced. The sets are nice with Louis Strack’s office being the most notable for its intricate design. Danny Elfman creates a beautiful picture with his music. The score gives the sad tale of Peyton ultimately becomes the loveable monster, and accents the film well. Darkman stands out as a work that any film buff should have in his or her collection; it is one of those lost gems in the sea of cinema.
The “Take the Elephant Scene” is funny to watch, since to me Liam Neeson has always been portrayed as a nice guy. Robert Durant doubles as a Taxidermist, which adds an extra level of creepiness to his character making him all the better a villain. It was awesome to watch his facial expressions mix with his semi demonic voice to create a truly troubled being. Bruce Campbell does some of the voice over work for Darkman; he not only does some of the yelling for Darkman but also works as a body double in certain scenes.
The film was at some points seemed to move a little slow. The blue screen they used for the action sequences were problematic. For a film that has a very serious and Noir feel, the action scenes that required blue screen took me out of the film. They felt out-of-place and turned the film into a comedy when compared to the rest of the film.