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Darkman is Sam Raimi’s first big studio film and is a fun horror movie/superhero flick mash-up. It tells the tale of Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson), whose life’s work is to create synthetic skin. His lawyer girlfriend Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand), however, has unintentionally crossed paths with ruthless land developer Strack (Colin Friels) and crime boss Robert Durant (Larry Drake) who send thugs to Westlake’s home/lab to collect some incriminating paperwork. This results in Peyton being brutalized and badly burned with his work destroyed. Now horribly disfigured and without the ability to feel pain, Westlake continues his work in hiding and uses his ability to create skin masks to infiltrate the criminal organization…and exact gruesome revenge!
Flick is directed by Sam Raimi from Raimi’s story and a script by he and four other writers. That’s a lot of scribes for what is basically Phantom of the Opera meets Batman, but it’s far from the mess that number implies. Darkman is actually a fun and amusingly gruesome superhero/revenge flick as Neeson’s scientist turned vigilante hunts down Durant’s thugs, while carving out a path towards the gangster and his crooked developer partner. He also tries to restart his romance with Julie with a hilarious and tragic amusement park scene being the result of that epic fail. The film has a strong comic book vibe, with over-the-top characters, such as Evil Dead II’s Dan Hicks playing a one-legged thug with a machine gun in his wooden leg. There is a lot of action, but as this is a horror film, too, some cartoon-ishly gruesome death’s for Durant’s men. Raimi isn’t afraid to get bloody, as this is rated R, yet maintains the feel of a comic book, which probably got him the job directing three Spider-Man flicks. He takes his material seriously, yet has a lot of fun with it.
The cast all get the material. Neeson plays Westlake as a charming but dedicated scientist and then makes for a very Phantom of the Opera-esque vigilante when he transforms into a vengeful anti-hero. Frances McDormand is good as Julie, who is at first fooled by Strack’s charms. As Strack, Friels makes for a charming yet slimy villain. Drake is very good as the brutal crime boss Durant. He can be ruthless and cruel and is a perfect match for the once kind, now vengeful Westlake. The supporting cast including Nicholas Worth, the before mentioned Hicks and a cameoing Bruce Campbell, all get the tone of the material and their characters.
Overall this is a really fun flick that captures the comic book spirit sometimes better than the straight-up superhero flicks of the time. The cast all get the tone of the material and despite the overabundance or writers, it’s a clever script that balances the comic book style with the horror elements perfectly…as does Raimi’s direction. There is action and drama and some gruesome ends to some very deserving creeps. Inspired a pair of direct to video sequels with The Mummy’s Arnold Vosloo taking over as Westlake.
Rated 3 an 1/2 Darkmen (out of 4).