Twenty-eight years ago this week Sam Raimi gave us Darkman.
Raimi wanted to make an homage to the old radio and movie dramas, but he couldn’t get the rights to either The Shadow or Batman.
So, instead, Raimi decided to create his own hero, and Darkman was born.
TIME AND PLACE
Darkman was generally well-received upon its release, and it did well financially. Still, it’s seen more as a “cult” movie today than it is a commercial success. That probably owes a little to the fact that Batman came out in 1989.
You see, Batman was a phenomenon.
I’m not sure I can even accurately describe what a massive deal it was. I know that right now there’s some of you who are saying, “Mark, that kind of stuff happens all the time now. Look at The Force Awakens or Infinity War.”
Here’s the thing, they don’t even come close. I mean, maybe The Force Awakens comes kind of close, but not really.
We’re spoiled now. We get huge comic book movies and huge sci/fi films all the time. They come out at least once a year. Before Batman in 1989 we hadn’t had a big superhero movie since Superman II in 1980.
Batman was everywhere. He was on lunchboxes; he was on backpacks, he was on the television. There were numerous commercials, posters, magazine ads. Prince released his “Batman” album a few days before the movie came out. I remember playing it on the bus to school and all of us kids singing along.
And, no, that wasn’t a common occurrence in the quaint old days. It was as unheard of then as it is now, but that movie and that music brought us together. It was incredible.
Darkman came out one year later. Comparisons were to be expected, and they certainly came. Critics seemed to like the film but try to find one from the era that doesn’t mention Batman. It’s nearly impossible.
What’s sad is that the movie isn’t a Batman clone, it’s a much different entity.
WHAT DARKMAN IS
At its core, Darkman is much more a throwback to the old days of cinema, especially the Univeral movie monsters. It’s a deliberately paced film that doesn’t have Liam Neeson really “become” Darkman until the final minute or so. Sure, he makes the physical transformation before that and even starts to fight against crime before that, but his mission is a personal one. He doesn’t become a vigilante for the sake of justice until the end of the movie.
That’s not to say we don’t get action. There is plenty of action, and a lot of it is in the signature goofy style of Sam Raimi. And I don’t mean goofy as an insult. Perhaps, heightened reality is a better description. Either way, it is a fun ride, and you can see the beginnings of the director he’d become. Even though the tone is far different, you can see the shades of the first two Spiderman movies here.
NOTHING IS PERFECT
There is only one glaring flaw in this film…the dialogue. I suppose that should be an important part of a movie, but Darkman powers through some very bad dialogue. Raimi has never been known as a great “actor’s director” and has a hard time writing dialogue that isn’t melodramatic or plain cheesy.
Owe it to that heightened sense of reality I guess.
Either way, the film makes up for these shortcomings by packing in a ton of great action, an intriguing plot, and a very good performance from Liam Neeson.
If you’ve never seen Darkman, you need to ask yourself a couple of questions. First, do you like Sam Raimi’s movies? Second, do you like goofy/borderline schlocky action movies with a sci/fi twist?
If you answered yes to either of those questions, then Darkman is right up your alley. If you answered no, well watch it anyway. I’m sure you’ll find something to like about it.