'Darkman' was Sam Raimi's first superhero movie and his first Hollywood movie. Raimi had tried to get the rights to Batman and The Shadow, but since that proved unsuccessful, he created his own hero. The script harkens back to a simpler time, before grittiness, realism, and adult themes took over comic books in the mid-'80s. Here, the good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and the characterization doesn’t get much deeper. There's no examination of motives or exploration of themes. Just some thrills and chills to entertain, and it will if that's all the viewer expects from it.
Liam Neeson is Dr Peyton Westlake, a scientist working on a formula to create synthetic skin. His girlfriend is Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand), an attorney who discovers a memo that reveals real-estate developer Louis Strack, Jr. (Colin Friels) is involved with criminal Robert G. Durant (Larry Drake). Durant and his men go looking for the document and to expedite their search they blow up the Westlake's lab.
Westlake is thought to be dead, but instead has 40 percent of his skin burned off. He undergoes an experimental operation to sever his pain receptors. Not so coincidentally what he really needs is synthetic skin. In the most interesting element of the story, the formula for the skin only lasts 99 minutes and with the aid of computers can be created into the likeness of anyone. This allows Westlake the possibility to reestablish a relationship with Julie and also to disrupt the operations and seek revenge against Durant and his men.
The movie has some very good action scenes, particularly the ones involving an incomplete building and a helicopter. The camera is frequently in interesting positions as it moves around and captures what's going on. The framing is reminiscent of a comic book and cinematographer Bill Pope and his team do a good job executing Raimi's vision.
While it has some good qualities and elements, 'Darkman' is flawed and may lose some people. The movie suffers from being a bit corny at times and falls apart if too much thought is applied to elements of the story. Neeson and Drake ham it up but then don't get much memorable out it. It's unfortunate that Drake's character is a generic villain because a hero can only be as good as his nemesis. If he had been given a more compelling character, it could have made the movie more interesting. Also, it's a tad unbelievable to see the way Westlake is able to impersonate people just from applying synthetic skin. He not only takes on the look of their face but physical attributes of their body as well
The tone shifts about as if either Raimi wasn't sure what to do or because higher-ups were trying to force things to happen. There's some good action, but the humor deflates the tension of some scenes and there's never any real sense of danger for the leads. There's a love story but there's no chemistry between them. (Editor's note: Is it just me, or does all of this sound like the Raimi-penned 'Spider-Man 3?' Another thing that doesn't work are the false teeth Neeson wears as part of his post-burn costume. They look incredibly fake and are distracting when he talks since they don't match what would be his mouth moving.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal brings 'Darkman' to high-definition on a region-free BD-25 Blu-ray disc housed inside a standard blue keepcase. The disc boots up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements.
The video is presented with a 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Unfortunately, the print is dirty and the quality of the video fluctuates.
Blacks are frequently strong, though our hero travels in shadows a lot and on occasion the blacks crush and delineation is lost. Colors are bright, most evident at the carnival and the orange of flames; however, all skintones skew towards pink.
Because the image isn't always sharp, the textures don't always offer a lot of detail, the faces look smooth, and there's not much evidence of grain, I presume Universal used DNR though not so much as to ruin the viewing experience. Contrast isn't as consistent as it could be.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is adequate but doesn't deliver the immersive experience expected for an action/superhero movie.
There's limited surround ambiance from the carnival and of gunfire. The subwoofer doesn't present a great deal of lows. Dialogue is clear, and while balanced with Danny Elfman's score and the effects, the mix seems a tad quiet. Most of the louder moments aren't very in relation to the other elements, causing the audio too sound flat. Imaging takes places with vehicles that pass across the channels while crossing the frame.
Not a one.
Hellllllooooooo in therrrrrrre.
Even with all the strikes against it in terms of its story and Universal's failure to take advantage of the Blu-ray format, 'Darkman' is still a pleasant experience. Not a must-see by any means, but there's enough to make it not be a waste of time. It could easily be skipped over, but if you enjoy Raimi's work and superheroes, it makes for a decent rental. If you already own a copy of the HD DVD, there's nothing here to warrant a double-dip, three years later, the video and audio are just a little bit less impressive compared to newer, better mastered releases.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.