It’s 25 years to the day since Sam Raimi unleashed Darkman to bewildered and indifferent audiences. A comic book movie without a comic book, misunderstood in its time, Darkman gave us an unhappy anti-hero with noir roots years before Nolan made it stylish, and introduced us to a murderous Liam Neeson before his middle-age action hero renaissance.
At the time, studios were looking to replicate the success of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, a strong influence here right down to the Danny Elfman score. But this is not well-tailored, one-percenter Bruce Wayne on a quest for justice. Neeson’s Payton Westlake is barely keeping his shit together. Blown up by thugs after his groundbreaking research developing synthetic skin, Westlake winds up disfigured, super strong, impervious to pain, and emotionally unbalanced. His fake skin is a useful disguise as he goes about revenge - and for trying to convince the love of his life he’s still the man he was - but it only will last 100 minutes in light before it dissolves into a bubbling mess.
This pretty much sums it up:
The film is gloriously derranged, running on the fumes of Raimi’s Evil Dead years as he transitioned into big budget moviemaking. It’s since been adopted into the cult cannon and followed by a pair of crap, Raimi-less sequels not worth your time.
Of course these days, throw a hunk of kryptonite in the movie theater and you’ll hit a guy in spandex. But watching Darkman now, it still feels like studios are playing catch-up. Marvel might be willing to back a movie with a talking racoon, but a downbeat psycho-thriller about a burn victim clawing to keep his humanity? Not a chance.