132) Darkman (1990) Dir: Sam Raimi Date Released: August 1990 Date Seen: May 12th, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5
Between Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness, writer/director Sam Raimi made Darkman, a superhero flick with no interest in admirable superheroics. As a "Sam Raimi film," Darkman follows a scarred scientist that suffers from a horrendous accident of literally explosive camp proportions. He uses a revolutionary machine cobbled together from computer banks and a giant Pinhead, he runs around post-accident in a black trench-coat and false faces that dissolve after 99 minutes and he's deathly afraid of his girlfriend (Frances McDormand)--the carnival scene is a classic example of Raimi's typically inept, celibate male protagonists. His comically creepy personality makes him the perfect Raimi hero/stand-in, one that is so absorbed in his own little world to notice that he rarely notices the rest of it.
Watching Darkman today in a post-Spiderman world, the best thing one can say about it is that it's a real treat for fans of his signature Stooges-style slapstick, filmed with bouncy, hyper-active Levinsonian camerawork. It also serves as yet another reminder of the excesses of Raimi's boisterous style. Where most filmmakers might blow off steam by making a light comedy between more heavy-handed fare, Raimi does the opposite, making a handful of serious films and twice as many that are infused with a zealously inaccessible sense of humor. Being over-the-top almost all the time, even just within a single film, breeds the suspicion that he's masking artistic ineptitude with cheap yuks, a status quo Darkman only serves to further reinforces.
I might've been able to warily embrace the high-flying zaniness of Darkman if it were not for the preponderance of scenes where it's obvious that Raimi and his four other screenwriters have more energy than ideas. The final few scenes in particular prematurely fizzle out, with some exceptions--riveting gun cam!--but when it wants to be, Darkman soars pretty high on its own fumes.
Additional Notes: Liam Neeson needs to be an action hero more often. Whether it's this film or Taken, which oddly enough whet my appetite for Darkman, I cannot help but be won over by his combination of gruffness and apologetic sincerity.
The montage sequences, full of beautifully fragmented double exposures and claymation action, are technically some of the best stuff I've seen Raimi do. Crude based on the budget he's working with today but really seductive in an unpolished, gonzo kind of way.