“What is it about the dark? What secret does it hold?”
Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is a brilliant scientist. He and his assistant Yakatito (Nelson Mashita) are working on developing a synthetic skin to help burn victims to have as normal a life as possible. Westlake is having some problems with the formula. The skin only lasts for 99 minutes. Then it rapidly disintegrates. If they can find out why the formula is unstable they can formulate a way to fix it.
Westlake’s girlfriend Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand) is an attorney. While researching a land deal concerning a waterfront development project, she runs across a memo from Louis Strack (Colin Friels) to a man named Claude Bellasarious. The memo appears to be payoffs to people on the zoning commission. Julie asks Strack about the payments. Strack fully admits that they are payoffs. He explains his reasoning for them. Strack wants to refurbish the waterfront and build a huge complex. His project will create thousands of jobs. He also says that another man, Robert Durant (Larry Drake) is also interested in the waterfront area. Durant is a known crime boss. Strack believes that Durant will do anything to get a hold of the memo. Strack tells Julie that while she has the memo, she is in danger.
Meanwhile Westlake is working on his synthetic skin. He is running another test when the circuit breaker trips. With the power off the lab is in darkness. The experiment Westlake is working on makes it past the 99 minute mark. Westlake realizes that light is what affects the formula. The skin is photosensitive.
At that moment Durant and his henchmen show up looking for the memo. Westlake has no idea what they are talking about. Durant doesn’t believe him so he kills Yakatito and tortures Westlake. One of the minions finds the memo. Durant and his posse leave setting fire to the building and burning the half-dead Westlake alive. When the building explodes Westlake is thrown into the near-by river.
He is found and taken to the hospital. The hospital believes he is a homeless guy. As part of his treatment the hospital cuts the nerves that act as pain receptors. Westlake feels no pain. No sensation of any kind. As a result of the lack of sensitivity and the trauma of his experience Westlake has bouts of uncontrolled anger and super strength. When Westlake comes to he breaks his bonds and leaves the hospital. Still horrendously scarred he sets up shop in an abandoned building. This is where he plots his revenge against Durant and his men.
“Darkman” was released in 1990 and was directed by Sam Raimi. This is one of those films that came and went too quickly. Since Raimi couldn’t get the rights to “The Shadow” or “Batman” he did the next best thing. He created his own superhero. This superhero is all alter-ego. And very much flawed. He is part Phantom of the Opera, part Hulk. He lives in the shadows, in the dark. When he does emerge, he can be whoever he wants to be. At least for 99 minutes.
The violence is very much in your face, hence the “R” rating. Darkman is very much an adult superhero. This is not for the kiddies. There are no slick jokes, other than from the bad guys. Darkman does not want to be a superhero and would gladly give it up if he could. He was quite happy just being a scientist. This mantle was place on him.
One thing that, at least to me, Raimi did right was to instill in Darkman impotent rage. What may appear to be melodramatic to some is, to me, the outward feelings of a man who is scarred, not just on the outside, but inside as well. They say that when you lose one sense, the others are magnified to compensate. Since Darkman can’t feel on the outside, his inner emotions are increased. When he’s frustrated he destroys everything around him. Something he would never have done as Westlake. When he’s mad, he’s volatile.
The only fly in the ointment was some of the action in the climax of the film. Parts of it was a little over the top. Still we’re talking superhero movie so I can handle that. There’s lots of action and some interested special effects and make-up. Danny Elfman’s music score pulls it all together.