It Came from 1990: Darkman!
Welcome back to 1990! The beginning of the 20th Century's end and the start of memorable cinema.
Let us look back 30 years ago, whereas 1990 furthered expanded upon high conceptual formulas that the 80's had left behind. Post 1989's Batman, Superhero films, were scarce and still seen as a niche market despite a few "noble" attempts.However, there was one that had unintentionally set the standard for how far the comic based genre can go in cinema.
Directed by Horror legend, Sam Raimi of the Evil Dead series of films, Darkman is a homage paying Superhero slash revenge film with Actor Liam Neeson as the film's protagonist, Peyton Westlake, an ambitious scientist working on a device that manufactures artificial skin tissue capable of covering severe cosmetic damages from burn victims. Peyton feels overly optimistic despite minor setbacks whether it is his prosthetic skin lasting up to 99 minutes, or his Girlfriend Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand of Mississippi Burning and the excellent Three Billboards in Ebbing Missouri.) feeling hesitant to accept his marriage proposals. Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worst as Julie, who is an attorney gains possession of the Bellasarious Memorandum, a document detailing Land developer Louis Strack's "City of the Future" along with him bribing the Zoning commission.
This compels Strack (Colin Friels) into taking desperate measures by attempting to recover the incriminating documents.As Peyton feels close to perfecting his synthetic application, he is violently ambushed by a pack of thugs. And as if that wasn’t enough, while searching for the memorandum, the sadistic Mobster Robert J. Durant, destroys Westlake’s laboratory but not before killing his assistant.
Although Peyton is thrown from the warehouse lab blast, his body and face is left horribly scarred. To quell the intense pain caused by his severe burns, the surgeons perform a radical operation that cuts the nerves of the spinothalamic tract. However, its results had produced a few "side effects" as in Peyton's loss of tactile sensation and sensory input, in return, he is gifted with super strength via adrenal overload.
Peyton may seem invincible when it comes to taking physical damage but it’s his psychological instability, that he has to keep in check as well as Durant since Peyton, now called Darkman, has put Robert on the top of his shit list!Instead of jumping to opening credits like 1989's Batman, Darkman treats us to a fun prologue and dialogue involving Robert Durant's meeting with rival racketeer Eddie Black who thought he had the upper hand, only for Durant to break off his fingers!
Soon afterwards, there is that main intro with red and blue saturated collages of the titular character, accompanied by Composer's Danny Elfman handling the soundtrack chores. (Coincidental? No, since Raimi could not secure the rights to making a Batman movie, he might as well use the same Composer who by the way, rehashes some of his Batman score for thus movie!)
Darkman reminds me of some modern high conceptual take on the classic Universal Monsters. He's the Invisible man, Frankenstein, Phantom of the opera, the Mummy along with other influences such as House of Wax, Zartan of G.I.Joe and the pulp noir comic, The Shadow but at its core, its a modern revision of Beauty of the Beast, an ill-fated love story. The story isn't played out as your standard Superhero fare, it's somewhat slow paced, but pays off during various moments whether it’s Peyton psyching out Durant's henchmen with masks or as its called, "shemps". Or he loses his shit with those psychotic outbursts due to losing everything important in his former life that he just cannot get back. In one scene that was nothing short of brilliant was, when Peyton tried to rebuild what was lost when he reunites with Julie at a Carnival and just when he was feeling optimistic, in comes Murphy's Law....
I was delighted to see how Sam Raimi's trademarked quirky and ingenious use of storytelling, carry over from his Evil Dead films with those dark comedic elements. The story and pacing of Darkman although, not what many were expecting in a Comicbook film, is still engaging courtesy of Raimi's direction, Nelson’s impeccable acting and ambitious Stuntwork. (Especially during the third act.) However, I have a few minor gripes like Strack for the most part, as this dull villain with ambitions to build a new city on the riverfront that will provide thousands of jobs!
Even when attempting to sweep Julie off her feet at a ballroom dance, felt lame and in my not so humble opinion, Strack’s best moment was during the finale where he arrogantly boasts about "destroying things to build them". it is that same narcissistic bravado that mirrors another land developer now turned, "President ". Was the shady characteristics if Strack, modeled after Donald J. Trump way back when? 🤔 Jus asking for a friend. It seems as if he borrowed the Old Man's gentrification playbook from Robocop 2 when concocting his eminent domain scheme.
Another complaint I have is, why couldn't his assistant Takiaka at least kicked some ass before going down? When being ambushed in the lab, Yakatito was in this martial arts stance as if he were confident to give Durant's henchmen the business, but that was not the case.
I would have loved to have seen Darkman utilize more of his capabilities or have additional powers However, I liked how Peyt used his brains as opposed to Braun when strategically seeking revenge against Durant. That said, Liam Neeson does a tremendous job as the vigilante with a tortured soul while Larry Drake serves as the main antagonist with a creepy hobby. 👐
I'm curious about the relationship between Robert and Ricky. There seemed to be a subtle hint that it was more than a Mentor/Apprentice relationship. I’m not certain whether or not they were implying something, but I could be wrong. As for the film's conclusion, it is one of the main features that stood out. whereas Peyton was trying to get his old life back after the accident, has finally come to terms of who he is now, a monster underneath the man.
Darkman is not your average Superhero origin flick. For underneath, its layers of synthetic skin, this film is a high concept psychological revenge tale, including a rooted love story and self-acceptance. All told through the eyes of its tragic titular hero. It was perhaps the first R-rated Superhero film released in theaters, which includes a darker protagonist prior to other comic like characters on screen such as, The Crow, Kick-Ass,Blade, Deadpool and even Logan. Raimi proved that he could direct Superhero films, as Spider-Man cemented his “street cred” and soon, Doctor Strange Madness of the Multiverse.
"I am everyone and no one. Everywhere. Nowhere. Call me... Darkman."
Darkman is available on Starz