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Friday, 2 September 2016

Retro Review: Darkman (1990)

Cast: Liam Neeson, Frances McDormand, Colin Friels, Larry Drake 
Genre: Superhero Action 
Worldwide Lifetime Gross: £48.8 million 

Plot: When thugs employed by a crime boss lead a vicious assault on Dr. Peyton Westlake, leaving him literately and psychologically scarred, an emergency procedure allows him to survive. Upon this recovery, Westlake can find solace only by returning to his scientific work developing a synthetic skin, & seeking revenge against the crime boss. He assumes a phantom avenger persona called Darkman, who with malleable facial qualities, is able to infiltrate and sow terror in the criminal community 

'Occasionally Gory & Suspenseful Hidden Gem Of A Comic Book Movie'

Years before The Avengers, Batman and Captain America became successful comic book adaptations came movies in the 1990s such as Darkman. At the time, they were considered unmarketable, low-grade, cheap flicks with very little thought and consideration given to them. Comic book movies were seen as a joke & not something they could make a decent movie out of them. That Hollywood didn't think there was an audience who would be into movies such as this, besides the fans of those franchises and to market for them fully, and as a result, we got lots of forgettable efforts, such as The Punisher, The Phantom & earlier Captain America. Darkman, on the other hand, rose above this mediocrity by giving us a Superhero movie that stems more towards like a revenge thriller than today's typical CGI fest. 

When it was released in 1990, general audiences weren't still quite ready for a superhero movie as dark, mysterious and brooding as this effort, and as a result, financially, Darkman didn't blow up in a big way and make the required impact. Here, Liam Neeson was also a relatively unknown actor, way before he later found imminent success with the Taken franchise, but it was nice to see him in a movie like this before he became a Hollywood star. 

Darkman was created by the eventual Spider-Man creator, Sam Raimi. It is gory - though not too gory, suspenseful and action-packed and at times, emotional movie; scientist Payton Westlake has a good life: a steady girlfriend and who works as a scientist. Unfortunately, all this changes when he is brutally set upon by a gang of thugs, who barge their way into his lab, physically attack him and is left for dead. Only for Payton to come back as Darkman and that he is left horribly disfigured. & life is never the same for him. He tries to move on with Julie by his side, yet unfortunately, things don't go the way he wants it to be. 

As Darkman, he is immune to physical pain but is constantly saddled with emotional and mental anguish. He does, however, possess enhanced strength, as well as serious rage issues and mood swings. He can disguise himself as anyone else - but this only lasts for 99 seconds. He frequently wears a trench-coat and bandages to hide his disfigurements, as well as a hat. Darkman is now hellbent on exacting revenge against Drake and his cronies by donning synthetic skin.  

The film is like ''The Evil Dead' meets Spider-Man and unlike many superhero movies today, there is no CGI to be found. & in Darkman, he is a different breed of superhero, with the difference being he looks like a monster, but he still is human and still a good guy. 

Liam Neeson was great in this movie as the superhero and alias Payton Westlake, along with Frances McDormand as his ex-lover: I could feel their sense of happiness, rage and despair. The movie succeeded in emphasising the protagonist characters emotions and the emotional arc of the story involving Payton and his former lover gives it extra depth, but at the same time without exaggerating it too much, as I felt that internal and external struggle. Both Neeson and McDormand are worth watching for and they portrayed their characters genuinely and with conviction. Surprisingly, I learnt that Raimi or the casting director wanted Julia Roberts to play as Liam Neeson's love interest, & yet she opted for Pretty Woman instead. An idea of Julia Roberts playing that role, which I couldn't see working. But alas, McDormand did exceptionally well and was perfectly cast. It was a smart move by Raimi.  

I felt Payton's plight, his sorrow, his sudden outbursts of rage that are at times unexpected and understandable. You would have to be when you witness someone who had to experience such a horrible incident. & for him to come through in the end and see him give the villains a taste of his medicine, is sheer bliss.  

There are some good action sequences, special efforts and an intriguing plot-line for a superhero movie. It does have that distinct feel of the Batman movies directed by Tim Burton: that dark, broody- ness, the background theme being so eerily similar, and like Batman himself, Darkman wears a cape. 

There were a couple of direct to DVD sequels but without Liam in the role, & they all tanked, unsurprisingly. 

Final Verdict:

This is a dark, mysterious & peculiar hidden gem that also doubles up as a cult classic and the movie worked because of key players, Liam Neeson and Frances McDormand. Without them, Darkman wouldn't be anywhere as good as it is. This movie is quite different to many other superhero movies and unlike any, you have seen before, but it is compelling, & under Raimi's unique vision and the script is well-written. This is easily one of the most underrated and at times, grossly overlooked films of this type.

The performances by Neeson and McDormand make this movie and whilst this doesn't have the massive fanfare of Marvel and DC's properties in terms of films, Darkman still does its job well, whilst giving the audience a taste of this particular comic book franchise. 

At times gory and suspenseful, If you are into superhero movies, a different type of comic book movie, then I think this might be worth your while. 


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