"Darkman" DVD, Blu-ray Review

6/09/2010 Posted by Admin


DVD, Blu-ray Review

Directed by Sam Raimi, written by Raimi, Ivan Raimi, Chuck Pfarrer, Daniel Goldin and Joshua Goldin, 96 Minutes, Rated R

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

More than decade before he took on a serious superhero film franchise with the "Spider-Man" films, comic horrormeister Sam Raimi and his brother Ivan (co-writer of the "Evil Dead" films) came up with Darkman, a superhero of their very own, one far darker, grittier and more absurdly over-the-top (in typical Raimi fashion) than Spidey ever could dream of (yes, even the super emo "Spider-Man 3" Spidey).

Liam Neeson plays Peyton Westlake, a scientist striving to create synthetic skin for burn victims who finds himself a target of Robert Durant (Larry Drake) after his girlfriend Julie (Frances McDormand) uncovers evidence of some of the mobster's criminal enterprises. Durant and his crew destroy Westlake's lab and leave him burned, deformed and thought dead, but when he awakens from a coma to find his entire life ruined, he puts a makeshift lab together at a warehouse and begins planning his revenge against Durant.

Despite having little more than a small cult fanbase, "Darkman" may very well be Raimi's best film. Combining the unrelenting cheese of his best horror work with the atmosphere and weight of his finest dramatic efforts, it comes out as his most enormously entertaining work. Neeson, who would find his real breakout three years later with "Schindler's List," shows an entirely different side as Westlake. He's maddeningly over-the-top, almost reaching the level of Bruce Campbell's work with Raimi, and though he spends the majority of the film behind bandages and masks, he manages to make his performance work, both comedically and dramatically. There are some very emotional moments, and with Neeson's spot-on performance, it's hard to know whether you should be laughing or crying. His performance is given even more weight due to the excellent make-up work, which makes visualizes Westlake's "Darkman" persona as a twisted Phantom of the Opera-esque mix of the Invisible Man and a Dick Tracy villain. It's very inspired.

Here, Raimi's style reflects his fascination with '30s and '40s horror and noir pretty heavily, and it all balances very well with the action. Something quite odd about Raimi's work here, though, is how many scenes, or even specific shots, were re-used in the first "Spider-Man." The attack on Westlake's lab and the final showdown especially mirror many scenes in "Spider-Man." It's made even more bizarre alongside Danny Elfman's score, as even certain cues in the music are reminiscent of his score for the latter film. And because of these artificial similarities, one can really see how Raimi changed between this film and his comic book-based blockbuster--he used to be a lot more fun, and he tells Westlake's story with a lot more power (and a lot more briskly) than Peter Parker's.

It's not a perfect film. As always, Raimi has some trouble deciding when to tone down his style, making for some uneven dramatic and comedic elements, and the rest of the cast doesn't really add much other than punching bags for Neeson to toss around and yell at. But it's so ridiculous and entertaining that it's hard to hold anything against it. Raimi very much does for superheroes here what he did for horror with his "Evil Dead" films, and it would be great to see Raimi go back to making films like this.

Grade: B

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  1. Hrushi said...

    Did Sam Raimi really take efforts on this one?