When I first saw Darkman, I remember liking it, but not being overly impressed. However, after viewing this Sam Raimi flick post Spider-man, I was able to see it for the wonderful horror-superhero-action-comedy movie it is.
Peyton Westlake (played by a very young Liam Neeson) was formerly a scientist on the verge of a breakthrough in synthetic skin for burn victims. When thugs burn his laboratory, he is burnt beyond recognition. By day, he attempts to finish his skin research so he can reconstruct his face and get his girlfriend back. At night, he turns into the superhero-esque Darkman, impervious to pain and on the prowl for revenge.
As a superhero movie and a mad scientist film, this film is very effective. There was never a lull in the action and the film captured me right from the teaser. While some moments were downright disturbing, the film never took itself too seriously. This technique is very difficult for a director to achieve, but it‘s become Sam Raimi‘s trademark. He has a knack for making typically-one-dimensional action characters into multidimensional characters that the viewers can identify with. Liam Neeson was a natural choice for Darkman as he plays loving and passionate just as well as a rage-filled lunatic, and does it with the same intensity as a stage actor. His stellar performance coupled with Raimi’s direction made this an action movie that is a cut above the rest.
It’s hard not to make parallels between Darkman and Sam Raimi’s Spider-man. Some of the shots were absolutely identical. The “bad guys’ were portrayed in the same comic-bookish way (they were always only a couple degrees away from famous humor-laden villains such as The Green Goblin). Not to mention, Sam Raimi seems to have the market on tragically reluctant superheroes. Peter Parker and Peyton Westlake both received their powers much against their will and are in a constant battle with themselves. The difference is that Darkman did it better. In Spider-man (and its sequel), Peter Parker’s whining borders on annoying and petty. However in Darkman, Peyton’s self-battle seems very legitimate and believable based on his personal misfortunes.
I must comment on Sam Raimi’s comedy. Though the film is full of humor, it never takes away from the dark aspects of the film. So few directors know how to accomplish this. This is because Raimi is able to constantly shift his secondary focuses, while not losing the primary one. Peyton is never a source of the comedy, because he is the Shakespearean-tragedy element in Darkman. Instead, Raimi shifts his humor elsewhere to lesser areas, such as the bad guys. It’s this kind of writing that changes this film from a simple bad guy versus good guy film, to a multifaceted, eclectic film about the human condition.
I have seen some negative reviews for this film that I don’t understand. If you like the genre enough to go see Darkman, I can’t imagine that you would dislike it. The script is solid, it’s never boring, and it’s just as funny as it is melancholy. And Liam Neeson is hot (I was referring to his acting. Yeah, that’s it). A trifecta of humor, drama, and tragedy, Darkman is a sure-can’t-miss.