Universal // 1990 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // June 11th, 2010
They're already here.
For many, Sam Raimi is the man behind Spidey's swing. Casual movie fans will be familiar with Sam's work from his successful superhero trilogy, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2 and the woefully underappreciated (at least to this reviewer) Spider-Man 3. But you bottom dwelling horror trolls out there are far more familiar with Raimi's low budget origins that include The Evil Dead trilogy and 1990s weird one-off, Darkman. Featuring a performance from Liam Neeson that seems to be phoned in from the zanier corners of the Twilight Zone, Darkman comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Universal in a barebones edition.
Dr. Payton Westlake (Liam Neeson, Taken) is on the verge of a miraculous breakthrough with a new form of synthetic skin replacement for burn victims. What Payton doesn't know is that his girlfriend Julie's (Francis McDormand, Fargo) new discovery at her job -- a memorandum incriminating her boss (Colin Friels) -- will literally blow his world apart. Enter Robert G. Durant (Larry Drake, TV's L.A. Law), a hired thug sent to retrieve the memo from Payton's laboratory. Durant destroys Westlake's lab, and seemingly Westlake himself, in a fiery explosion. But Payton survives with terrible burns and severed nerve endings, giving him super strength and uncontrollable emotions. With a new laboratory and the power to become anyone of his choosing by utilizing his synthetic skin, Payton sets out exact revenge upon those who wronged him and rebuild his old life. A new hero is born: the Darkman!
Sam Raimi's Darkman is an odd film indeed. Tonally, it's all over the map -- there's horror for the gore hounds, sci-fi for the technology nerds, romance for the chick flickers, superhero antics for fanboys, explosions for the action junkies and even Three Stooges-like shenanigans for comedy buffs. It's as if when making Darkman Raimi went as broad as he could when it came to audience inclusion. Had he included a gunfight at the OK Corral and a distinctive yellow brick road he may have succeeded as the first film director in history to make a movie that encompassed every cinematic genre known to man.
As it stands, I like Darkman. I don't love it (no, that space is reserved for the uber-awesome Army of Darkness), but I do enjoy it quite a bit. It's a movie filled with weird imagery, a creative and original superhero, interesting villains and silliness to spare. Liam Neeson is at his most deliriously unhinged in this movie. He doesn't chew the scenery as much as baste with BBQ sauce and scarf it down with a side of baked beans. Dr. Westlake's loony meter pegs at around 11 with no signs of letting up.
Complementing Neeson's performance is Larry Drake (best known as Benny on TV's L.A. Law and as the maniacal murderer in the cult classic Dr. Giggles) as the sadistic, cigar chomping Robert Durant. It's a shame Drake didn't make more of a name for himself as a movie heavy -- he's one of the most interesting enemies in recent memory. A cross between Marvel Comic's Kingpin and Dick Tracy's Big Boy Caprice, Durant is a wonderful foil for Neeson's Westlake.
Due to the strength of the leads the rest of the cast suffers by comparison. Francis McDormand is virtually wasted as Julie, Westlake's long-suffering girlfriend. Her character seems to just meander along; while her presence is needed, her character seems lost among the larger personalities of the cast. Colin Friels (Dark City) as a second tier heavy also is given little to work with. However, it is nice to see Raimi regulars such as brother Ted Raimi (the Spider-Man trilogy) and Bruce Campbell (just about every Raimi movie ever made) popping up in fun cameos.
If Darkman has any real flaw it's in its own internal logic. Darkman is able to replicate the skin of any person and 'become' them...but how do you account for differences in bone structure, height, weight, etc. I realize that when you watch a movie like Darkman you're supposed to check those parts of your brain at the door. Sorry folks, but even in a story about a crazy scientist turned burn victim turned vigilante superhero it's hard to let go of my college degree.
And yet, I nitpick. Overall Darkman includes a lot of things a movie if this ilk requires: explosions, comedy, chase scenes, silliness, a great Danny Elfman score, wacky camera shenanigans and performances that skirt along the cusp of crazy. And when it comes to Sam Raimi, it's fun to see all his signature camera moves and styles flowing effortlessly through the film (has there ever been a director who's over-the-top antics can be seen so clearly in all of his movies?). The truth is that while not a perfect movie, Darkman is an entertaining action/horror/comedy/romance that should make for a wonderful Saturday night rental.
Darkman makes its debut on Blu-ray in a 1080p 1.85:1 widescreen transfer. For a film that is now twenty years old (a figure that only reminds me I'm getting nearer to death than birth every waking moment), Darkman looks surprisingly good for its age. There are moments in the transfer when things soften up a bit, but overall this is a very sharp and pleasing transfer. Due to its age and low budget limitations (well, low budget considering what films cost today), Darkman is never going to pop and shine like Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy. But for those looking for a substantial upgrade from standard DVD to high definition, this version of Darkman is a good value.
The soundtrack for Darkman is presented in a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Mix and is, frankly, just okay. Fans of Danny Elfman's brooding score will enjoy this mix, but overall it's not surround heavy unless you considering 'comin' at ya from the front' a true surround blend. The dialogue and effects are all clearly rendered if a tad flat considering the high def nature of the format. Also included are English subtitles.
Considering the cult status this film has and the fact that it was one of Sam Raimi's first forays into big/medium sized budget filmmaking, you'd think Universal would add something -- anything -- to entice buyers to double dip into this new high def title. Alas, you're stuck with the feature presentation and little else. That is, unless you count 'Blu-ray packaging' as a special feature.
Darkman is that special kind of film you'll either love or hate. Those with a penchant for cult films or goofy action movies may want to put this in their Amazon.com basket ASAP. For the rest, I'd say its originality and goofiness is worth at least a Redbox rental.
Darkman is free to go on account of it being off-the-wall fun.
Review content copyright © 2010 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated R