Jarv’s Birthday Series: Darkman (1990)
I’m everyone – and no one. Everywhere – nowhere. Call me… Darkman.
It’s now time for the Birthday Series to say goodbye to the appaling late 80’s and start in with the swinging 90’s. First up is Sam Raimi’s first stab at a superhero movie, Darkman (released on 24th August 1990 in America). I have to say that I think Darkman is still his best Superhero effort (I don’t get the love for Spidey 2), being a fantastic romp that rocks along at a fair old pace, is full of cracking dialogue and great performances, and, unlike the Spider-Man films is actually fun.
Liam Neeson plays Peyton Westlake. He’s working on a synthetic skin, and has problems with it lasting longer than 99 minutes due to it collapsing as it is highly photosensitive. His girlfriend, Julie (played by Frances McDormand), is an attorney for property developer Strack (Colin Friels) who has a healthy sideline in organised crime which is run by Larry Drake’s fabulous Durant. Durant is completely demented and likes taking fingers with a cigar cutter. Julie, unfortunately for Peyton, discovers a memorandum about bribery and informs Strack. Strack’s reaction is to send Durand round to Peyton’s lab to retrieve it. Durant, not being the most subtle person, beats and tortures Peyton before leaving him to die in the burning lab. Hideously disfigured, Peyton is operated on by quack doctors who perform a procedure to sever his never endings which has the side effect of making him completely nuts and augmenting his strength. Peyton then uses his synthetic skin to take revenge on the scumbags that landed him in the hurt.
This is a fantastically OTT film. Raimi made it because he’d failed to acquire the rights to either Batman or The Shadow, and the experience was so disheartening for him that he stepped away from studios after Army of Darkness. Nevertheless, this is a cracking romp. It’s a superb origin story, and a completely unhinged superhero for adults movie. There’s really a lot to like here, Raimi hadn’t flattened his visual style yet, so there’s lots of camera work that could be straight from the Evil Dead (still his best film), and it works supremely well with the inherently silly storyline. A fine example is Neeson’s mental collapse at the fair, which has the camera zoom in to his eye and a visual montage of images flash across the screen depicting him losing it. Top work.
This is, as noted, an inherently silly movie. However, it does succeed and a lot of the credit for this goes to the acting. Neeson is hugely entertaining as the Mad Doctor, and Drake is gleefully insane and sadistic as Durant. Mcdormand has the hardest task here, but is infinitely better than Dunst was in a similar role in Spidey. Her part is eventually reduced to “damsel in distress”, which is practically a must in a Superhero film (Kidder in Superman, Dunst, Maggie G in The Dark Knight and so forth), but before then carries her end as a smart, capable, professional woman. All the acting here, even from Ted Raimi in a small role is on song. Oh, and it’s nice to see The Chin make a brief cameo at the end.
This really is fun, I was actually pleasantly surprised by it as I hadn’t seen it since it was first released. However, watching it as an adult, there are some flaws that stand out. Firstly, it feels very clunky and this is because there are a lot of scenes that only exist to explain something or other to the audience. Notably Neeson losing it in the lab. While it does feel rough, this isn’t the end of the world, because for the most part Darkman is ridiculously entertaining, and I don’t really want to quibble too much. Secondly, the Darkman makeup, while good, isn’t anywhere near as effective as the bandages wrapped around the face, and when you see him in his full monstrous glory at the climax, it feels, well, a bit too much. Almost, and I struggle to say this with a straight face, silly.
I haven’t talked about the score for a while, but this one has a fantastic musical accompaniment. It was written by Danny Elfman, and there’s more than a little similarity to the theme from Burton’s Batman in there. This, actually, is great as it gives the film a pulp-y comic book feel to it, and shifts it quite comfortably away from revenge thriller into comic book territory (which is where it should reside).
Overall, this is a good film. It’s too rough to be considered a great film, but I did have a thoroughly good time watching it. Darkman is a superior origin movie, a nice take on the superhero genre and still Raimi’s best attempt at it. The acting, particularly from Drake, is so good, and the film is so much fun that I really do recommend it and I’m giving it 3 hissing cat sidekicks out of 4.
Pity he didn’t take this form into Spidey, really. Then we might not have had two boring films and one absolute floater.
Next up is Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man which I’ve never seen.
The full list in this series:
- 1978 – The Driver (3 out of 4)
- 1979 – Life of Brian (4 out of 4)
- 1980 –Xanadu (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1981 – An American Werewolf in London (4 out of 4)
- 1982 – Class of 1984 (3 out of 4)
- 1983 – Fire and Ice (1 out of 4)
- 1984 – Cal (1/2 out of 4)
- 1985 – Teen Wolf (3 out of 4)
- 1986 –Reform School Girls (2.5 out of 4)
- 1987 – Dirty Dancing (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1988 – Married to the Mob (1 out of 4)
- 1989 – Millennium (1 out of 4)
- 1990 – Darkman (3 out of 4)
- 1991 – Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man
- 1992 – Christopher Columbus: The Discovery
- 1993 – Hard Target
- 1994 – Natural Born Killers
- 1995 – Desperado
- 1996 – Freeway
- 1997 – Mimic
- 1998 – Blade
- 1999 – Teaching Mrs. Tingle
- 2000 – Bring it On
- 2001 – Heartbreakers
- 2002 – Simone
- 2003 – My Boss’s Daughter
- 2004 – Exorcist: The beginning
- 2005 – The Cave
- 2006 – Invincible
- 2007 – War
- 2008 – Death Race
- 2009 – Der Baader Meinhof Komplex
- 2010 – Piranha 3D
- 2011 – Conan the Barbarian