One of the things that I’m planning to do more of this year is these short mini-reviews of movies that I watch not long after I get through with them, especially those that I’m just revisiting, like this one, just because it was in my Netflix queue and I decided to give it a rewatch because it has been a long time since I’ve seen it. A a matter of fact, if I recall correctly, I first saw this back when it hit video back in the good old VHS days, and probably haven’t watched it since.
There’s no doubt about it, Darkman is definitely a Sam Raimi film. Coming just after Evil Dead 2 and years before his 2002 take on Spider-Man, it nonetheless shows many of the flourishes that would make the director a standout. Reportedly, the movie had its origins in Raimi’s desire to make either a Batman or a Shadow movie, but being unable to acquire the rights to either, he decided to simply create his own hero. (Personally, I would love to see a Raimi made Shadow film, as he is one of the few directors I think could likely get the character right and give it just the visual flair/restraint it would need. Though actually the pulp character Raimi wound up creating reminds me more of The Avenger than either of those two.)
Managing to get funding from the film from Universal, Darkman became Raimi’s first Hollywood studio film, which, though it meant he actually had, for the first time, a decent budget to play with, it also meant that he had uire a few battles with the studio, including the fact that they nixed his desire to use long-time friend and Evil Dead franchise star Bruce Campbell as the lead (though he does get a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo at the end). Instead that role went to Liam Neeson who – of course, this was long before he became known as an action star – was mostly chosen for his leading man looks, which is ironic since he spends long stretches of the movie wrapped in bandages to cover his disfigurement or in hideously transforming makeup. It is interesting, however to see Neeson trying to actually take a Campbell-style slapstick beating during one of the movie’s early fight scenes. (Raimi was, on the other hand, successful in bringing along his brother Ted in a supporting role.)
One of the things that makes Darkman so interesting is Raimi’s visual nods not only to his stated pulp hero influences, but to the early Universal monster flicks such as Frankenstein and The Invisible Man. Of course, these are in addition to those unique stylistic touches and innovations that truly set Raimi apart and identify this as a picture that only he could have made. Add to this a striking Danny Elfman score and you have an unfortunately much overlooked movie not only in Raimi’s ouvre but in the superhero canon. In a way it’s a shame that the movie was made when it was (yes, I’m saying Raimi was extremely ahead of his time) as opposed to more recently when the movie-going audience is much more receptive to this kind of movie, especially since Raimi’s flair would make it such a standout amongst the more cookie-cutter hero movies that have come in it’s wake from both Marvel and DC/Warner Bros.
Check it out.