Twitter Plot Summary: A scientist who has created synthetic skin seeks revenge on mobsters who tried to kill him.
Before his varying success with three Spider-Man movies (the less said about Spider-Man 3 the better), Sam Raimi took on a comic book style hero in the form of Darkman. Liam Neeson plays Dr Peyton Westlake, an expert in synthetic skin that can be used to hide physical deformities – no doubt that will come in handy later. He’s hit a snag in that the synthetic/plastic skin only retains its shape for 100 minutes before dissolving, so that could prove to be a bit of a pickle for him.
The creation of Darkman is, quite frankly, a ludicrous one, but not outside the realms of possibility for the superhero genre. A scientist notable for the use of his hands finds both hands burned beyond recognition and the rest of his body blown up (literally) after a notorious bad guy destroys his lab with him inside it. Following the incident, he uses his research into plastic skin to make him look normal again, albeit temporarily, and to seek revenge on the mobsters that tried to kill him.
Sam Raimi brings all of his trademark directorial flair to the production, the horror influences apparent in almost every frame. There’s even the odd moment of Three Stooges inspired tomfoolery for good measure, and a welcome appearance from Ted Raimi as one of the goons. Raimi is an interesting director in that he has a good eye for an interesting shot and frequently does exactly the opposite of what you may expect.
Neeson meanwhile, decades before his career reboot as an action star, revels in the silliness of the role. Never quite jumping into full-on parody territory, he’s just a step or two down on that particular ladder and subsequently finds the perfect level for Darkman’s anger, psychological problems and conflicted thoughts. Larry Drake is our villain, Robert G Durant, and while he has the right face for a sinister businessman he never fully convinces. Other than one fun scene at the beginning which indicates the true depths of his depravity and his quiet demeanour, there’s not much else going for him. A shame, as a more-rounded bad guy would have spiced things up considerably.
Unlike everybody else, Frances McDormand treats her role as Westlake’s girlfriend Julie with utter seriousness and subsequently manages to find an emotional link to the character that resonates. Her reaction to the situation is entirely believable and makes her not just an essential character to the plot, but more than the character appears to be on the page – the stereotypical female love interest who would otherwise contribute nothing than setting some elements of the story in motion.
Of course the problem with Darkman is that despite its visual style and competent direction, it doesn’t do anything new or interesting with the whole comic book hero thing. It’s perfectly competent and tells an entertaining story, but for the most part it’s one that you could just as easily see elsewhere. With that said, it still remains an enjoyable story precisely because it’s solidly directed and performed.