Judge Dylan Charles would rather be bitten by a radioactive spider than face the sequels to Darkman.
Our reviews of Darkman (published June 30th, 2000), Darkman (Blu-ray) (published June 11th, 2010), Darkman (Blu-ray) Collector's Edition (published February 7th, 2014), and Darkman (HD DVD) (published August 9th, 2007) are also available.
Now, Crime Has a New Enemy, And Justice Has a New Face!
Vengeance strikes hardest in the dark.
One fights for justice. The other for power. Only one can survive.
Sam Raimi tried to gain the rights to The Shadow so he could make his own movie adaptation of the pulp hero. Denied the chance to bring The Shadow back to the silver screen, he created his own hero who was obviously influenced by Lamont Cranston and his fedora topped alter ego. And so Darkman lurched into being.
Facts of the Case
Darkman: Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson, Batman Begins) has created a synthetic skin that could revolutionize something or another. His lady friend, Julie (Frances McDormand, Fargo) might soon decide to maybe marry him. Things can only go up from here. Unfortunately, his synthetic skin can only last for 99 minutes before breaking down. Also unfortunately, he gets in the way of Robert G. Durant (Larry Drake, L.A. Law) and Louis Strack Jr. (Colin Friels, Dark City), who have plans to revitalize depressed economic areas. Those fiends dare to build condos! In an unbelievably convoluted origin story, Peyton Westlake is destroyed and in his place Darkman is born! Soon he uses both his inhuman strength and synthetic skin to wreak vengeance against incompetent gangsters.
Darkman II: The Return of Durant: Even though Durant exploded in a helicopter in the previous movie, he somehow returns with some mild scarring and the occasional migraine. These are well-known side effects to being blown up. Darkman (now played by Arnold Vosloo, The Mummy) must stop his old foe before Durant unleashes his new atomic laser beams on the city.
Darkman III: Die Darkman Die: Rooker (Jeff Fahey, Grindhouse) wants the secret to Darkman's super strength so he can bottle it up and sell it on the street. Darkman objects to being used as a lab rat and there is much tomfoolery.
Darkman is a quirky, dark movie that is pure, undiluted Sam Raimi. Hyperkinetic action with the camera bouncing off the walls and over-the-top violence are all here in spades. It's easy to see The Shadow's influences throughout, from Darkman's costume to the dark nature of the character. I'm curious to see what Raimi will do with The Shadow's license now that he has it.
Liam Neeson is not in strong form as Lamont…I mean, Peyton Westlake or as Darkman. His acting is all over the place, as though he were channeling the spirit of a strung-out junkie. The fact that he's paired with the always reliable Frances McDormand makes his manic acting even more off-putting. It's not that I think Neeson should tone it down. Overacting fits the whole tone of Darkman; it's just he's really bad at it. I think Bruce Campbell (who was up for the part) would have been better suited for the role, more at home with the notion of letting go of all restraint.
Darkman is dark slapstick, a place where The Three Stooges would feel at home—if the Three Stooges killed a lot of people during their wacky antics.
One of my main problems with Darkman is the bizarre sequence of events that lead to his creation. It just feels forced. I felt like Sam Raimi said, "Okay, I want him to be strong, disfigured, and crazy. Let's figure out we can do to make this happen." Unlike, say, a spider bite or bullet-riddled parents or alien origins, Darkman's explosive departure from his lab and his treatment at the hospital just feel contrived.
Then there are the villains and their equally villainous plot of revitalizing waterfront properties. They just aren't colorful enough to really stand next to Darkman and be noticed. Mobsters and corrupt city officials just don't stack up very well against the guy with no face.
Be that as it may, Darkman will appeal to anyone who loves the Evil Dead movies. That same vibrant, chaotic black humor is there and it's easy to see why Darkman has a following.
I'm hard pressed to figure out what kind of person would like the two reprehensible sequels, though. The best thing I can say about them is that there is no appreciable drop in quality between Darkman II and Darkman III. But then, it would be hard to go lower than the very bottom.
Arnold Vosloo is a decent enough replacement for Liam Neeson, though after Neeson's lunatic acting, Vosloo is pretty bland stuff. They seem to have done away with one of Darkman's more unique features: the fact that he's completely gibbering mad. I'm not saying it was Darkman's best quality, but it was that quality that helped differentiate him from all the other superheroes. Instead, Darkman's mental instability is just limited to the occasional table-thumping outburst.
And then there's the fact that Durant survived a damn helicopter crash. I know that shouldn't bother me as much as it does, but his helicopter exploded! And the only sign that anything bad happened is a scar on his forehead and now he has to take some pills? When Darkman was exploded, half of his face melted off. I expect at least that much to happen to Durant.
Durant's laser weapons produce some fairly laughable effects and it's hard to be impressed by their destructive abilities when they seem to amount to nothing more than Photoshop effects.
Jeff Fahey in Darkman III picks up the overacting slack from Vosloo and chews the scenery with wild abandon. This actually fits in with the tone of the Darkman series, so I'll let it slide this one time. The best acting comes from Roxann Dawson (Star Trek: Voyager) as Angela Rooker, Rooker's wife.
Rooker's plan to juice Darkman's super-strength is even worse than the lasers. I'm no scientist, but I'm pretty sure one man's adrenalin is as good as the next.
Danny Elfman scored the first film; his style was then imitated for the next two. His score isn't as strong or memorable as his work in Batman or Beetlejuice, and it's just kind of there. His imitators come off even worse.
Universal is the biggest culprit here, though. The first disc is bad enough; it just has the first two movies with some trailers, but no chapter selection. The third movie is on a disc by itself and there's not even a menu. Not one that I could find, anyway. The transfer quality is also not up to snuff, with some dust and scratching noticeable on Darkman III. Fans of the series should be appalled at the treatment these three movies have received.
Darkman is a quirky film that won't appeal to everyone, but if you enjoyed Sam Raimi's earlier work, you'll enjoy this. Very few people, on the other hand, will enjoy the two sequels except as Bad Movie Marathon fodder. Add into the mix Universal's shoddy treatment of all three movies, and you've got yourself a rental.
The first Darkman is not guilty by reason of insanity. The sequels will be kept under close observation. Universal should be summarily executed.
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Scales of Justice, Darkman
Perp Profile, Darkman
Distinguishing Marks, Darkman
Scales of Justice, Darkman II: The Return Of Durant
Perp Profile, Darkman II: The Return Of Durant
Distinguishing Marks, Darkman II: The Return Of Durant
Scales of Justice, Darkman III: Die Darkman Die
Perp Profile, Darkman III: Die Darkman Die
Distinguishing Marks, Darkman III: Die Darkman Die
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