Discover the captivating nuances of the American superhero film “Darkman” (1990) in this illuminating and visually enhanced Blu-ray review.
After the unexpected success of the first two Evil Dead movies, director Sam Raimi sought to venture into more mainstream filmmaking.
Originally planning to adapt The Shadow, a famous crime fighter from pulp novels and radio, Raimi could not secure the rights to the character.
Instead, he collaborated with his brother Ivan to develop a new action hero, resulting in the creation of Darkman in 1990.
This stylish superhero film garnered enough popularity to spawn sequels, a TV pilot, and comic books.
While initially released as an essential DVD in 2010, Darkman is now available in a new special edition Blu-ray from Scream Factory, Shout! Factory’s label for cult/horror titles.
Blu-ray Review: Darkman
Darkman follows the story of Dr. Peyton Westlake, a scientist working on a synthetic skin that can mimic anyone’s appearance.
Despite his remarkable progress, the synthetic skin disintegrates when exposed to light for more than 99 minutes.
His life takes a tragic turn when a group of criminals, led by the ruthless Robert Durant, invades his lab, resulting in a devastating explosion that leaves Westlake severely injured and seeking revenge.
Using his scientific expertise, Westlake reconstructs his lab in an abandoned factory and transforms into Darkman, a vengeful hero with near-superhuman abilities, seeking to conceal his disfigurement and avenge the injustice done to him.
Darkman belongs to the category of superheroes who dispense relentless justice, akin to characters like Batman and The Punisher.
The character draws inspiration from classic figures like The Shadow and classic movie monsters from Universal Studios.
Like The Phantom of the Opera and The Invisible Man, Darkman embodies a tragic genius struggling with his disfigurement and the pursuit of a remedy.
Director Sam Raimi and the cast successfully blend these classic influences into a new and compelling narrative.
Actor Liam Neeson’s portrayal of Peyton Westlake effectively captures the multifaceted nature of the character, seamlessly transitioning between tender moments and intense outbursts despite being mostly concealed by bandages and makeup.
Neeson’s performance exudes an old-fashioned melodramatic flair that complements the genre.
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Raimi effectively employs the skills and techniques acquired from his earlier low-budget productions in directing Darkman, enhancing the film with a dynamic and visually engaging style.
His distinct touches, such as elaborate montage sequences, “shaky cam,” dramatic low-angle tracking shots, and stylized “comic-book” lighting, are evident throughout the movie.
These experiences with Darkman imprinted his later work, particularly the Spider-Man films, as seen in the comparison between specific sequences.
Additionally, Raimi’s background in horror movies is reflected in the film’s Gothic and horror elements, with some of the most memorable moments showcasing Darkman grappling with his monstrous identity in his factory lair.
The first-time cinematographer, Bill Pope, effectively realizes Raimi’s style, giving the film a polished and visually appealing look.
The production design by Randy Ser further complements Raimi’s vision, creating a Gothic-tinged comic book atmosphere, particularly in Westlake’s abandoned factory.
However, despite the intriguing protagonist and stylish presentation, Darkman falls short in character and story development.
Julie, portrayed by Frances McDormand, intended to be a strong and independent modern woman, is disappointingly underwritten, rendering her a forgettable and poorly developed character.
Similarly, Colin Friels’ portrayal of Louis Strack, the film’s primary antagonist, lacks depth, as his character seems to lack a larger evil scheme beyond profiteering from real estate development.
Unlike the villains in Robocop, Strack’s motives appear limited to financial gain, making him a lackluster and unimposing figure.
Furthermore, the careless plotting surrounding the incriminating memorandum and the underdevelopment of Strack’s character detracts from the overall narrative.
On the other hand, Larry Drake’s portrayal of Robert Durant stands out, with his compelling performance overshadowing the shortcomings of the other villains in the film.
Darkman features an exhilarating action sequence where Durant hoists Westlake on a cable suspended from a helicopter, subjecting him to a high-flying ordeal involving building collisions and a close encounter with oncoming freeway traffic.
This live stunt-packed sequence, devoid of dummy or CGI doubles, offers thrills alongside amusing moments like Darkman’s polite apology after crashing through a high-rise window and a near miss with Raimi’s beloved Oldsmobile Delta 88.
However, the film’s concluding scene pales in comparison. Despite the concept of a climactic showdown on the girders of a skyscraper under construction, the execution falls short of delivering the anticipated excitement.
Despite the state-of-the-art effects, the scene fails to convincingly convey the perilous height, feeling confined to a safe soundstage.
The lack of suspense, particularly in the confrontation between Darkman and the uninteresting Strack, leaves the film unsatisfying, contributing to the sense that it doesn’t fully realize its promising premise.
Director Raimi expressed dissatisfaction with the studio’s interference, citing the removal of crucial scenes, including additional glimpses into Westlake’s tormented psyche through “rage montages.”
Even if Raimi had been able to release his director’s cut, the film would still be marred by weak supporting characters and careless plotting, as these shortcomings stem from Raimi’s role as co-screenwriter and creator of the original story.
Consequently, in its released state, the film can be seen as a mixed bag, albeit stylish, for which Raimi shares both credit and blame.
Shout Factory’s new special edition Blu-ray of Darkman will likely satisfy the film’s numerous fans.
The transfer effectively captures the nuanced color tones featured in various scenes, from the subtle gold and rose highlights in daytime settings to the vivid bursts of red accompanying Darkman’s rage and the intricate details in night and shadow-filled sequences.
While grain management seems to have been applied, it’s not as excessive as in previous Universal Blu-ray releases.
The audio quality, available in 5.1 or 2.0 DTS, is robust, with Danny Elfman’s brooding score being a standout.
However, the absence of Sam Raimi from the bonus material is noticeable.
Nevertheless, there are several new featurettes and interviews with the cast and crew, along with vintage EPK featurettes and interviews, the trailer, TV spots, and still galleries, providing a rich array of content for fans to enjoy.
Despite some imperfections in the transfer, the wealth of extras makes this release an appealing and highly recommended package for Darkman enthusiasts.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Darkman rates:
Supplements: Audio commentary, new and vintage featurettes, and still galleries.
Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? Yes
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