By Adam Donato
1990’s Darkman stars Liam Neeson and Frances McDormand, two all-time talents, and is written/directed by Sam Raimi. Raimi is one of the greatest horror and superhero directors of all time. Darkman brings both of these elements together and nobody talks about it. This was a year after Burton did Batman in 1989. The film did turn its $16 million budget into $33 million at the box-office but isn’t brought up when people talk about underrated comic book movies. Is it just not that good or are people not aware that Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy was not his first superhero project?
Darkman is the story of a scientist who seeks revenge against the goons who physically mangled him while trying to find his way back to his old life with his girlfriend. Neeson carries the movie as the titular character and is so much fun to watch on screen. In interviews, he’s spoken about how the character’s inner turmoil and overall self-hatred is what attracted him to the role. Raimi speaks of how the character started out as a normal dude, then seeks revenge, and has to face the monster he feels he has become. Darkman is an anti-hero as he spends the majority of the movie murdering people, but then again, those people are bad people. He also lies to his girlfriend, which prohibits them from moving forward together. References to The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Phantom of the Opera are big influences on Darkman. His inner conflict is a sympathetic one, while his external conflict is a formidable opponent.
Robert G. Durant, played by Larry Drake, and his goons are fun villains to watch. The opening sequence of the movie shows an even larger gang of thugs being taken out by Durant’s group thanks to a fake leg that is a gun and a cigar cutter that is used to cut off the fingers of his enemies. One of the goons is played by Ted Raimi, who is popular for working at the Daily Bugle in the Raimi Spider-Man movies (“It’s hip, it’s now, and how?”), and it’s always a joy to see him pop up in his brother’s movies. The complaint, if any, about this movie is that the action sequences are lackluster due to the villains just being goons. Darkman can’t feel pain and has the ability to change his appearance, so while a movie about him fighting just goons is a good starting point, it would be interesting to see him fight a villain with a more interesting skillset. That being said, the action scenes are not bad by any means. There’s balancing on steel beams and even Darkman hanging from a helicopter. It’s a wild ride for such a small scale hero.
The love interest is Julie Hastings played by soon-to-be Oscar winner McDormand, who is a step above the rest when it comes to superhero love interests. Not only is she extremely likable, but she’s also an active part of the plot apart from her relationship status. Her noticing of the memorandum is what puts the wheels in motion as Strack has to cover up his misdoings by taking her out. The relationship between Peyton, Darkman’s alter ego, and Julie is compelling in the sense that you want them to be together, but you understand why they can’t. There’s a beautiful scene where Julie is visiting Peyton’s grave when Peyton confronts her. The cavalcade of emotions in this scene is touching as we see her go from shock to horror to sadness to relief in his embrace. You want Peyton to get the girl, but you see the monster that he has become in his actions. This point is hammered home when Darkman chooses to leave Julie at the end of the movie, proving that nobody will ever judge us more than ourselves.
The special effects are great, but that’s no surprise as Raimi is known for it ever since The Evil Dead. Darkman looks terrifying, but you can still identify the man under the gauze. Neeson talked about how he struggled to speak as he wanted the fake teeth to move as little as possible. Part of the fun of this kind of movie is where special effects weren’t used. When Darkman is wearing a mask of one of the goons, their performance as Darkman wearing the goons as a mask is fun to watch. The holograms in the movie look good considering that this movie came out in 1990.
Anytime Danny Elfman does a score for a movie, it deserves to be brought up. The film is given life thanks to Elfman. He not only heightens every single action scene, but he also makes the credits fun to watch, which is an accomplishment. It was very cool to see that Elfman worked on this movie in hindsight due to his future works with Raimi on the first two Spider-Man movies.
So it’s a forgotten gem of a movie. It still has that Raimi cheesiness to it that makes such a dark movie so enjoyable to watch. The whole cast knocks it out of the park. The movie pulls everything off from special effects to score to characters and themes. The ending is the icing on the cake for any Raimi fan. As Julie chases after him, Darkman gets lost in the crowd. His mask, an unknown man played by Bruce Campbell himself. Not only that but left with the tragic feeling of losing oneself as Darkman embraces who he has become. Please do yourself a favor and check this one out.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.