Universal // 1990 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // August 9th, 2007
"I am everyone and no one. Everywhere, no where. Call me, Darkman."
Over 15 years since it was first released, the lasting legacy of Darkman appears to be that it was director Sam Raimi putting Hollywood on notice that a creative force was on the horizon. The man who had achieved a rabid following of fans with his Evil Dead films was barely a spot on the radar back in 1990, before tackling the Spider-Man franchise with such deftness. So now that the film is here in high definition, how does it measure up?
Raimi had been wanting to do a comic book adaptation long before anyone approached him with the tales of Peter Parker. He even lobbied to do an adaptation of The Shadow, but when that fell through (and thank God for that), he and his brother Ivan, along with others, created an original story. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson, Batman Begins) is in love with Julie (Frances McDormand, Fargo) and is happy, while doing some research on a technology that will reproduce skin tissue, in the event of burns, scarring, what have you. Julie does some work doing, well, some kind of investigative reporting, and a successful businessman may be involved in some shady dealings with a criminal mastermind named Durant (played by Larry Drake of L.A. Law fame).
Durant finds out about Julie's meddling, and goes to Peyton's place (no pun intended) to destroy evidence that would implicate the businessman. He blows up the apartment, and Peyton, in the process. However, Peyton isn't dead, he's just horribly disfigured. So he resurrects the technology he was using as a scientist to make some fake skin for himself, and with any luck, will get a chance to enact revenge on those who destroyed his life and alienated him from his girlfriend.
Boy oh boy, if you want to talk about a template that was used countless times down the road, then Darkman certainly has it. Raimi paints the picture of a guy living in ordinary circumstances very well, then something traumatic happens that puts them into a extraordinary situation. He's given powers that he's unsure of at first but is willing to embrace later in life. And while he embraces those powers, he tries to tie the loose ends up in his life. Sounds vaguely familiar to a certain big time successful film directed by Raimi. Hell, it sounds like any comic book film or super hero film that has been made since 1993 for that matter.
It might be a little bit unfair to hold this against the film, but some of it really does come off as being cheesy. Perhaps it's the effects, or maybe some flaws in the story, but it hasn't held up over the years. Besides, in the outline I've talked about, things tend to be a little bit shoddily executed. Part of that is due to production values (Michigan looks amazingly like some Los Angeles city streets), but part of that is due to the conveniences the film takes. Overall the film could have been a bit more attentive of this, even on the presumably smallish budget it was working with, but it's clear that the groundwork was set.
From a casting perspective, it seems that Raimi managed to hit a lot of proper notes when it came to getting actors for the film. As the title character, Neeson conveys a lot with his looks of pain and vengeance, and considering that most of the film has him acting underneath surgical wraps over most of his face, he really does quite well. The surprising part is just how wasted McDormand was in the film. She does lend a bit of independent spirit, but the film is probably more memorable for the fact that she and husband Joel Coen (Miller's Crossing) appear in this film together, both of whom are longtime friends of Raimi. Speaking of longtime Raimi friends, Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell makes an appearance at the end of the film. I only mention it because it helps add to the sake of Raimi's familiarity with the people and to an extent the material, as he'd come to refine it later in the Spidey trilogy.
Universal is starting to rollout more and more TrueHD sound options with their titles, and at least in this case, it's warranted. Surround activity is beyond expectations, there's a small amount of low end subwoofer activity on explosions or other things, and Danny Elfman's score sounds great. The VC-1 encoded 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen looks solid as well, showing off the rear projection effects rather conspicuously. Oh, for the days before CG enhancements were made. Both on the standard definition and here, there are no extras, which is a minor shame, as the film has quite the cult following and maybe a retrospective of some sort would add value to the disc.
As the villain in the film, Drake is clearly the "make or break" part of the film. The guy is too eloquent to be a criminal. He even comes across as too nice at times to be a criminal, and not because he's being portrayed by the Darkman. And as the definitive signature for a bad guy, he's really invoking more horror than fear in the viewer. The weapon of choice is creative but not a signature move, so to speak.
Taken for what it is, which is basically camp action, Darkman winds up being interesting and for its time, a decent little action film. Since it's yet another barebones Universal disc, the only thing you're paying for is to upgrade the disc to high definition. And the TrueHD track is nice, but I wouldn't pay the type of cash that's being asked to upgrade it. But if you haven't seen this yet, it's worth giving it a try.
In terms of overall quality, the court leans toward the guilty verdict on this one, despite the subsequent work of the accused.
Review content copyright © 2007 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Original Verdict Review
* The Darkman Database