A scientist is attacked by gangsters, who blow up his lab, with him inside it. He is presumed dead, but luckily he survives, horribly deformed and unrecognizable. The doctors remove his neurons so that he can't feel pain, but this gives him extreme physical strength and the power to leave the hospital. Now, with the help of the synthetic skin he was working on, he can take his revenge! But how can he face his love again?
Directed by: Sam Raimi
. Starring: Liam Neeson
, Frances McDormand
, Colin Friels
, Larry Drake
, Nelson Mashita
, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson
, Rafael H. Robledo
, Dan Hicks
, Ted Raimi
, Dan Bell
, Nicholas Worth
, Aaron Lustig
, Arsenio 'Sonny' Trinidad
. Music by: Danny Elfman
In "Darkman," director Sam Raimi's first mainstream studio effort after the runaway success of "The Evil Dead" (1982) and its sequel "Evil Dead II" (1987), the audience sees double. Well, not always, but it does feature a hero who is able to assume the physical identities of his enemies in an effort to cause confusion amongst their ranks in his quest of bloody vengeance.
How does he do it, you ask? Through science, of course. Raimi has a wild imagination (which showed itself throughout the rampant mania of his "Evil Dead" movies) and his reputation precedes him everywhere he goes. Such is the case with "Darkman," his ode to the superhero genre after attempts to obtain the rights to "The Shadow" failed. With a legion of screenwriters at his disposal including brother Ivan, Chuck Pfarrer, Daniel Goldin and Joshua Goldin, the end result is "Darkman," the blood kin of all the wronged superheroes out there who leave behind their old lives and loved ones to dedicate themselves to fighting crime.
In 1990, after the success of the comic book adaptation "Batman" (1989) and other then-recent works like "Dick Tracy" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," it was a revolution to see a completely original hero take the movies by storm that year. Albeit a somewhat typical revengesci-fi action-adventure with placings of horror and dark comedy, "Darkman" still has its fair share of flaws, mostly in the script department, plus a few misjudgments on the part of the filmmakers.
As the film opens, Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is a brilliant scientist on the verge of perfecting a synthetic skin formula but there is one major setback: the skin won't last past 99 minutes in the light, but will last indefinitely in darkness and so the question remains: How do you make the synthetic skin last past 99 minutes in the light? With his live-in girlfriend, attorney Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand), his life seems idyllic, and complete, and he's about to pop the "m"-word to Julie. But Peyton loses it all when gangsters led by the bloodthirsty and cigar-smoking Robert Durant (Larry Drake) break into his lab searching for a memo that implicates Julie's employer Robert Strack, Jr. (Colin Friels) in a land development scheme.
Durant and his henchmen beat up Westlake, kill his lab assistant, dip him in a conveniently placed vat of acid, and blow up his lab with him still inside it. The blast doesn't kill him, but leaves him burned beyond recognition. Once in the hospital after being fished out of a river, he is subjected to a radical new medical procedure that renders him unable to feel pain but leaves him with augmented strength and uncontrolled rage. Using his resources, Westlake rebuilds his lab (think, the Bat Cave for working-class men and disfigured scientists) and goes to work trying to perfect the skin formula and get back at his attempted assassins. The synthetic skin comes in handy because it allows Westlake to assume the identities of Durant and his goons, playing them against each other and allowing them to wallow in the confusion generated by Westlake's antics.
Although "Darkman" gets by on the strength of its originality, there are some lines in the script that seem utterly pained and forced by the actors. "Darkman" also works well as a superhero movie, if you care to categorize it as that, but the ending action scenes really make Westlake seem more like a generic action hero because, where would a lab scientist learn how to dodge bullets, grenades, and fight like he's done this stuff before? (He's not supposed to be a Schwarzenegger, a Stallone, or a Norris.) But I guess, since it's a superhero movie, an ending confrontation such as this is unavoidable.
If those are some of the major drawbacks, then there is a lot more working in its favor, chiefly the performances. Neeson, spending much of his time hidden behind hideous burn makeup that is compliments of Tony Gardner and Larry Hamlin, is thoroughly convincing as the superhero Darkman. And we come to admire his pitiable attempts to return to his former life. It's also quite admirable with the way the film explores how Westlake is risking becoming the very thing he hates on the inside by exacting vengeance on his would-be assassins. Also, his scenes with love interest Frances McDormand are fairly touching as his fears of rejection by her because of his outward appearance are dealt with in a realistic fashion.
Director Raimi shows considerable control over his material, even if the effort is uneven in the end. "Darkman" isn't a bad first mainstream effort for a filmmaker who's making a huge leap from the independent market. While the inevitable sequels have proved to be horrid affairs, "Darkman" shows that not every great idea is meant to be consumed for the masses.
Review by dee.reid from the Internet Movie Database.