Darkman (1990)
April 26, 2016 6:22 AM - Subscribe

A brilliant scientist left for dead returns to exact revenge on the people who burned him alive.

Sam Raimi: I’ve always loved comic books and at the time I was trying to get the rights to “The Shadow” and I couldn’t get… Well I went in and met with the writers and Universal, but they wouldn’t give me the job on “The Shadow.” So I thought I’ll make my own Shadow then. I’ll call it “Darkman” which is just an obvious Shadow ripoff. [Laughs] I wrote basically a version of “The Shadow.” That’s really what “Darkman” was. Liam Neeson did a great job. I loved working with him and Francis McDormand in the picture and I had a great time making it but I don’t know that it foreshadowed “Spider-Man” as much as that was an expression of my love for the comic book genre. One of the other comic heroes that I’ve always loved besides Batman was Spider-Man so when I got the news that Columbia Pictures was looking for a director of Spider-Man, I put my name in the hat. I was way, way down the list but I just kept waiting and waiting and eventually my name came up.

Maryanne Johanson (FlickFilosopher): Darkman is only a step away from parodying comic books — the near perfection of Peyton’s life before Durant blows up him and his lab; the almost-too-convoluted plot involving Strack and his real-estate deal — but it never crosses that line, because Raimi knows the rules of this game. The protagonist must lose much in his transformation from ordinary man to superhero, and the superhero is the defender of the good people of his city — the corruption of public officials must not go unpunished — as much as he is the avenger of his own violent creation.

Joe Brown (The Washington Post): The idea of Raimi trying to make a "mainstream" picture is a great gag -- giving this guy more money to play with just means the chase scenes will take place on land and in the air, and the special effects and murders will be even more viscerally disgusting.

Don Kaye (Den of Geek): Darkman’s mix of action heroics, horror imagery and zany comedy was – and still may be – ahead of its time. In some ways, it’s one of the most pure comic book movies ever made. Its darker, more violent impulses have certainly found their way into the superhero movies of the last 18 years, while its more humorous, wacky touches are almost solely Raimi’s alone. That mix left Universal Studios uneasy, and a series of very poor test screenings didn’t help matters. With the movie receiving some of the worst test scores the studio had ever seen, it forced Raimi to take out some of his wilder footage (which sadly doesn’t show up on the Blu-ray).

Sam Raimi Darkman interview 1990. (poor worn-out VHS quality stuff)

posted by sapagan (17 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
This is one of the most ambitious failures in cinema history.
posted by Etrigan at 6:29 AM on April 26, 2016

I remember really getting off on this movie when it came out - I think probably because Sam Raimi's directorial style was so off the wall, energetic and cool. I haven't seen it since, in part because I'm afraid I'll discover it's truly terrible, and I don't really want to do that.

And I would have totally loved Sam Raimi's Shadow movie too. I tried dearly to love the Shadow movie we got because basically I just love The Shadow. But I couldn't do it. Now, like Donald Rumsfeld and the flat tax, I'm losing hope that I'll live to see a good Shadow movie.

And yeah, it's cheesy, but I kind of love the line about how, in the darkest hour, there is a light that shines on every human being...except one.
posted by Naberius at 7:01 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

I saw this in the theater and remember that I loved it and my dad hated it. I'm a little afraid to give it another look.
posted by MoonOrb at 7:06 AM on April 26, 2016

I saw this in the theater and remember that I loved it and my dad hated it. I'm a little afraid to give it another look.

I've seen it a few months ago, and... unsurprisingly, it lies somewhere in the middle. It's about ok.
posted by lmfsilva at 7:34 AM on April 26, 2016

This is one of the most ambitious failures in cinema history.

I remember being very impressed by this movie when I first saw it; like others in this thread I am reluctant to revisit it and see what it is like now. One of the things I've learned about myself in the intervening years is that I have a soft spot for ambitious failures in cinema, so it might be that I remember it warmly because of that fact.
posted by nubs at 8:30 AM on April 26, 2016

Well, I watch this movie kind of regularly. Darkman is, in my opinion, the best superhero movie ever. I don't mean that as a huge compliment; I don't think much of most superhero movies because I don't think it's interesting to have characters who are without limitations. Darkman is very restricted in what he can do and how, and I think that really adds to the tension. This film has that comic book feeling for sure, with the cartoony, evil bad guys and questionable medical explanations for his superpowers. The romantic arc with Julie. The crazy action scenes. The cinematography.

I can't imagine someone liking 80's/90's Raimi and not liking this movie, because it's so much in his style. He's great at mixing stuff that's heavy with stuff that's funny, and this film swings wildly in that respect. He must have liked the film himself since he lifted a few things from it for Spider-Man.

I think it's terrific that the bad guys destroy Peyton's identity at the beginning of the film when they try to kill him, and then his revenge is all about taking their identities. I love it that it doesn't end happily, or even with Peyton preparing to right all the wrongs in the world--he just disappears into the crowd.
posted by heatvision at 8:33 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I loved this movie when it came out. I saw it in the theaters with my dad and watched it a few times on cable, but like many here it's been a loooooooong time since I watched it. But I think I'll risk it as a Raimi fan. It would be interesting to go back and watch from the viewpoint of where he is now.
posted by miss-lapin at 11:15 AM on April 26, 2016

I rewatched it a week or so ago. And was quite surprised how enjoyable it still felt: a thoroughly over-the-top dark fantasy on all things horrible in the human being. A horrific comedy. Also had the feeling that Deadpool (aside from it being a straight comedy and 16-walls-deep-meta) really owes a lot to Darkman.
posted by sapagan at 11:51 AM on April 26, 2016

I caught a bit of this fairly recently, and two things stayed with me: the head-in-the-road scene, and an ambitious transition from Frances McDormand watching Liam Neeson's building blow up to Frances McDormand watching them lower an empty coffin into the ground. All the direct-to-video sequels had a head-in-the-road scene if I recall correctly.

What I remember most from watching it as a kid is how utterly remorseless Darkman became, and how much glee he had at beating the bad guys at their own game. The scene where Darkman-as-Durant gives someone until the end of his cigar to make a decision, and then cuts the cigar down to an inch before he lights it? Badass.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:55 AM on April 26, 2016

I was just starting to take an interest in cult films when this came out. I knew of Sam Raimi, but I hadn't seen either of the Evil Dead movies yet, so this was my first exposure to his crazy-go-nuts style of filmmaking. I was hooked when Durant's gang started shooting the other gang with the gun hidden in the guy's prosthetic leg while the dude hopped around, and by the time they got to the scene where the camera zooms into Darkman's eye, goes through his brain and comes out the other eye, I was a fan for life. And Liam Neeson's exasperated, incredulous "You've gotta be shittin' me!" during the helicopter chase kills me every time.
posted by MrBadExample at 10:06 PM on April 26, 2016

And Liam Neeson's exasperated, incredulous "You've gotta be shittin' me!" during the helicopter chase kills me every time.

I love when he's trying to give the big elephant to Frances McDormand and he just shouts TAKE THE FUCKING THING.

I always appreciated that this was a superhero in the pulp sense -- he wasn't especially heroic, was mostly intent on revenge, and the very thing that made him powerful was driving him mad, too mad to be part of the world in any meaningful way.
posted by maxsparber at 9:27 AM on April 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I saw this in the theater when I was in high school. Then it was one of the first movies I bought on tape.
I have watched the shit out of this movie.
It is still one of my favorites.
What stood out to me at the time was how much it has the look of a comic book. You can pause this thing at almost any point and have one of those Creepshow transitions from film to drawing, and it's perfect. It's like a film version of Wally Wood's 22 Panels That Always Work.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 5:08 PM on April 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

"I'm learning to live with a lot of things" is one of my top ten movie quotes of all time.
posted by phearlez at 1:25 PM on April 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Whoa this was bonkers, and way better than most superhero movies!
posted by iamkimiam at 12:07 AM on September 2, 2021

I have a huge soft spot for this movie. Huge. It really was sui generis back when it came out, and it's amazing how it looks like a comic book without looking stilted and posed like Zach Snyder's work. In some ways, it's a spiritual antecedent to The Suicide Squad.

("You've gotta be shittin' me!" is a line that still comes to mind when life goes seriously awry.)
posted by praemunire at 8:04 AM on September 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

It really was ahead of its time in a lot of ways. I hadn't made the connection to The Suicide Squad, but you're 100 percent right. I think that between Darkman and the Spider-Man films, a person could make an argument that Sam Raimi really is the inventor of the modern superhero film as we know it. There were quite a few other superhero films that came between Darkman and the start of the MCU, but out of all of them, I think only Blade comes close to this film's pure over-the-topness.

"You've gotta be shittin' me!" makes me giggle every time I think of it, which is ALL THE TIME. I think it was the first time I saw any action hero have that kind of reaction to their circumstances. Well, except for maybe Big Trouble in Little China.
posted by MrBadExample at 2:59 PM on September 2, 2021

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