The name Sam Raimi is now closely linked with comic book movies. His Spider-Man movies with Tobey Maguire were big hits. But way back in 1990 Raimi made a movie that in retrospect feels like an audition tape for Spider-Man. The movie was called Darkman. While it wasn’t based on any comic book in existence, it feels like a superhero origin story. It’s been largely forgotten since its release. But you owe it to yourself to check it out.
Sam Raimi wanted to adapt The Shadow, but was unable to secure the rights. So he went out and invented his own character and created one of the most original comic book style movies ever made.
Darkman stars Liam Neeson, before audiences knew him from Schindler’s List, the Taken and Dark Knight movies. Neeson plays Peyton Westlake, a brilliant scientist who has invented a way to create synthetic skin, what has today become 3D printing. The only problem with the process is that the synthetic skin degrades after being exposed to light for 100 minutes.
Tragedy strikes when Westlake is attacked by gangsters, his lab is blown up and he is presumed dead. But Westlake was in actuality blown into the river when the lab exploded. He is brought back to life by an operation that leaves him unable to feel pain. This gives Westlake tremendous strength. But it also mentally destabilizes him.
All of this no doubt sounds like a traditional origin story. But Darkman has one great twist after another. Instead of a superhero who is straight up after revenge, Darkman is a character who struggles with the choices he makes. You really feel how mentally unstable the character is. The way Darkman gets back at those who wronged him is really inspired to. He rebuilds his lab and creates synthetic masks of the villains. This allows him to get revenge on them and still get away with it.
None of this works without Liam Neeson, who gives us a whole range of emotions in his performance. It would be easy to overact a part like this. But Neeson hits all the right notes.
Darkman has Sam Raimi’s trademark dark humor. To this day, I think Raimi is one of the most offbeat and inventive voices of cinema. He gets so much of minuscule budgets and seemingly routine stories. Sam Raimi’s imagination is limitless, as anyone that has seen his Evil Dead movies or Drag Me To Hell can attest. Darkman drew inspiration from the Universal monster movies. So the movie also has a great stylish look to it.
In an era of sequels and remakes, I think it’s high time people give Darkman another look and appreciate it for being the understated masterpiece it is.