Darkman (1990) Movie Review

Sam Raimi’s Darkman is an early superhero film in which scientist Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is brutally attacked and left for dead by the mob. Heavily scarred and bandaged, the faceless Westlake becomes the Darkman, and, using his scientific research on artificial skin, assumes others’ identities in order to exact revenge on his attackers.

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This film, in spite of being inescapably ’90s in aesthetic, is an interesting excursion into superhero conventions before superheros had become the norm that they are now. His superpowers are those we’ve seen before: inability to feel pain, ability to look like anyone they please. But they are relatively novel for the screen in 1990.

It is also interesting to look retrospectively at this film in contrast with the large budget superhero affair of the past decade. Darkman is, as we can always safely expect from Raimi, not afraid to be campy, goofy, and light. We see baddie henchmen stock characters with nun-chucks and a machine gun prosthetic leg. We get gags that culminate in grim fates. Raimi adds his usual charm to this film, and it pays off.

The film’s camp makes it difficult to gauge the success of the acting performances herein. Neeson is interesting, particularly due to the screentime in which he has no face, but he is also over the top. This isn’t to say his performance should be written off (his movie choices these days are primarily based on over-the-top-ness, after all). For this film, he fits squarely into the intended tone.

An intriguing premise and set of character quirks makes Darkman a comparatively unique take on the superhero genre. But the film is filled with stock characters that only entice on first sight. What keeps the film alive is Raimi’s knack for camp in his direction, and the flourishes of cinematography from Bill Pope that add to this tone.

 

Darkman can be found on Amazon Video here.

 

As always, thanks for reading!

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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)

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