Sam Raimi is a very accomplished director, having made films such as: The Evil Dead, Drag Me to Hell, and the subject of this article, Darkman. Sam Raimi had always been interested in making a superhero film, but was unsuccessful in acquiring the rights to Batman or the Shadow. Raimi decided to create his own Superhero and struck a deal with Universal Studios to make his first Hollywood studio film. It was produced by Robert Tapert and written by Raimi, his brother Ivan Raimi, and Chuck Pfarrer, as well as starring Liam Neeson in his first action film.
The film centers around Dr. Peyton Westlake, along with his partner Yakatito, developing a synthetic skin to help burn victims. However, his girlfriend, Julia Hastings, is in possession of the Belisarius Memorandum, a document that endangers Louis Strack, Jr., a corrupt billionaire. He hires mobster Robert Durant and his gang to retrieve it. Westlake is horrifically burned in the recovery of the document. He is taken to a hospital and subjected to a radical treatment which cuts his nerves; physical pain is no longer felt at the cost of tactile sensation. This loss of sensory input gives him augmented strength due to adrenal overload and keeps his injuries from incapacitating him, but also mentally destabilizes him. Using his synthetic skin he impersonates criminals, to get revenge on Durant as Darkman...
The film is visually appealing. Sam Raimi has a very distinct style. Very well shot. As for the effects, they mostly largely contribute to the visual style. The film uses various techniques such as stop motion and compositing. Darkman's lab is exceptionally well done, invoking the lab of Victor Frankenstein. Darkman's face was created by Tony Gardner, who did a excellent job in my opinion. I do prefer Practical Effects to Computer Generated animation, as I just believe it looks more visually appealing. Danny Elfman provides an excellent score for the film, fresh off his work on Batman. The main Darkman theme is very enjoyable and I would recommend giving it a listen.
The characters are all interesting, as well as the actors portraying them. Liam Neeson does a excellent job at portraying Darkman. Originally, the role was intended for Bruce Campbell. However, the studio feared he couldn't portray the rather serious character. He does have a brief cameo at the end of the film. Gary Oldman and Bill Paxton were also considered before Liam Neeson was cast. Frances McDormand as Julia Hastings was intended to be a very independent character; however, in the climax, she is rescued by Darkman, so the message is not conveyed very effectively. However, her care for Westlake is compelling, and you can believe she actually cares for this person. Colin Friels plays Louis Strack, Jr., the corrupt and ruthless billionaire developer who runs Strack Industries. Personally, this character is not very interesting to me, and comes off as a generic villain. The late Larry Drake plays Robert G. Durant, a mobster who is employed by Stack to retrieve the document. He portrays the character well. His "hobby" of collecting the fingers of his enemies makes the character more interesting, as well as the actor portraying him. Durant's gang is also refreshing, not coming off as a generic gang. One such non-generic gang member is Skip, whose wooden leg conceals a machine gun.
Frankly, this is a very well done comic book film. If I have any complaint besides those listed above, I would say that the ending is a little too similar to Batman 1989. However, I very much enjoyed the film. It was successful and spawned two direct-to-video sequels starring Arnold Vosloo. Those, however, are a discussion for another day.
I give Darkman a 4 out of 5.
Special thanks to my editor Rose Dragoo.