Darkman is a movie I have a lot of affection for, as it was one of the first R-rated movies I snuck into with friends back in junior high. Undoubtedly one of Sam Raimi’s most ambitious projects, Darkman goes for gusto with its wacky sense of humor firmly intact.
While its imperfections are numerous, there’s a lot I will always admire about Darkman. It still remains one of Sam Raimi’s most ambitious projects to date and it’s hard to do anything but admire the kind of lofty ambitions Raimi tosses at the screen with his self-created superhero crime thriller/dark comedy mash-up.
In Darkman, Liam Neeson plays lovesick scientist Peyton Westlake, who gets caught in the middle of a dangerous political cover-up when his well-meaning girlfriend Julie (Frances McDormand) leaves an incriminating document at his lab connecting a corrupt developer to maniacal mob boss Robert Durant (Larry Drake, at his Larry Drake-iest here). Durant shows up to retrieve the document and cover up any potential evidence by torching the lab and Westlake, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Everyone believes poor Peyton was blown to smithereens, but he actually survives the blast unbeknownst to anyone and sets out to exact vengeance on those that disfigured him.
Darkman was Raimi’s big leap to studio filmmaking directly after the success of Evil Dead II and boy, does it show. Raimi takes advantage of having a bigger budget at his disposal by making great use of every single dollar that Universal gave to him to bring his comic book project to the silver screen with a mostly charming kitchen-sink approach. It’s definitely admirable to see Raimi finally live out some of his own directorial bucket list items as a fan (especially the homages to Universal’s classic monster movies) but ultimately, that frenzied style combined with Raimi’s penchant for hyperkinetic camera work is a big reason Darkman just never quite settles in as a cohesive film, leaving it with a feeling like maybe Raimi just had one too many irons in the fire this time around.
While all likeable and iconic, the performances in Darkman are the very definition of “all over the map.” Neeson is likable and charismatic enough when he’s playing up the tortured scientist-turned-superhero aspects of his character, but when he goes into freak out mode (usually when he gets angry), that’s when Darkman ventures into downright silly territory. Not that there’s anything wrong with Neeson’s over the top fits of rage, especially since the film smacks with Raimi’s trademark humor throughout. It’s just that those moments end up playing off a bit more humorous than perhaps they should.
Drake chews every piece of scenery he’s near throughout to near grandiose perfection in Darkman and McDormand’s performance is an awkward blend of looking terrified and looking uncomfortable, which is a shame (rumor is that she and Raimi didn’t gel during production) as she shares great chemistry with Neeson otherwise. Darkman also boasts a who’s who of iconic genre faces with Bruce Campbell, John Landis, Jenny Agutter and Raimi all providing cameos. Ted Raimi playing one of Durant’s cronies also adds a bit of charm to the film.
Ultimately, Raimi’s attempt at creating an iconic superhero story is both fascinating, but deeply flawed. By trying to blend in so many different elements- comedy, horror, mad scientist, crime thriller and romance to name a few- there’s an unevenness in the film’s tone that holds it back from being a true masterpiece. It’s an enjoyable film laced with an undeniable Raimi-esque energy that smartly never takes itself too seriously, which is absolutely Darkman’s saving grace in the end.
With all that being said, I am incredibly happy to see Darkman get a great high-definition release from Scream Factory, giving the film a much-needed facelift and the proper release that this cult classic has always deserved. The Blu-ray transfer looks vivid and the special features that Scream jam-packed onto the disc are rather incredible, with pretty much anything you’d ever want to see or hear on Darkman included here.
There’s a lively audio commentary with legendary cinematographer Bill Pope (The Matrix, Spider-Man 2 & 3), who provides a unique insight into Raimi’s style and approach as a filmmaker and is pretty fascinating stuff for fans of the director. There is also a bevy of interviews, both current and vintage, that makes for some compelling viewing all by themselves. While Scream also throws in a trailer, some TV spots and a gallery for good measure, it’s definitely their culling of interview materials which makes Darkman a must-own release for any fans out there. The film hasn’t looked this good in a long-time and Scream once again goes above and beyond with their Blu-ray presentation, making this the definitive release fans have been waiting for.
Movie Score: 3/5 Disc Score: 4.5/5