So I mentioned The LAMB in an earlier post and one thing that I find pretty neat is that they have featured topics that they will collect blog posts about and then list them all together. For a niche site like this one, it’s been hard to find one that I can participate in, but finally one came along that fits right in. Sam Raimi, LAMBs in the Director’s Chair which gets posted at the end of this month. He’s the man behind the Tobey Maguire Spiderman movies which would have been my first instinct. But there is a new Spiderman movie coming out this year and I thought I would wait to re-watch those movies until shortly before the new one to prep myself. But they aren’t the only superhero movies that he’s responsible for, there’s one other one that he not only directed, but also wrote: Darkman. I had never seen the movie before so I thought it would be a perfect fit, I’d heard good things about it, and I like most of what Sam Raimi’s been involved in, so I was in.
There are a few things I knew about this movie before seeing it. I knew it starred Liam Neeson, I knew he wore bandages and used a synthetic skin mask where he could impersonate anyone for 99 minutes, and that was pretty much it. I was expecting a serious and for lack of a better word, dark hero, and it was, kinda. What I didn’t expect was how so many parts of the movie were so over the top they became laughable. I feel like some of these moments were intended to be funny, but others felt like it was supposed to be a serious scene, and yet every time it goes into an old style special effects montage it was so cheesy looking that I had to laugh out loud. But in the end it felt a lot more like a revenge tale than a superhero movie, but I’m ok with that. One of my favorite movies is Payback with Mel Gibson, and I also enjoyed the Punisher movie with Thomas Jane. And this movie captured a lot of the same feelings that I had with those two movies.
Darkman is not exactly a superhero, he’s more of some type of mix between The Shadow, Batman, and The Punisher. Which is somewhat fitting since Sam Raimi originally tried to get the rights to the first two when trying to get his script off the ground. As I mentioned earlier, the movie plays out more like a revenge tale, Liam Neeson’s girlfriend finds an incriminating piece of paper, which shows up a couple times later in the movie even though it’s one of the flimsiest Macguffins I’ve ever seen. It’s a memo showing payoffs to the zoning commission or something like that. It’s easily destroyed and yet the villains save the paper apparently just so it can show up later in the movie as a plot point. Anyway, Liam Neeson ends up getting almost killed by the mobsters led by Durant. He is horribly scarred, left for dead, and yet found by a hospital that apparently uses injured homeless people for medical experiments. They treat his burns by cutting off his pain receptors in his brain so he can’t feel pain. The side effect is that his mind overcompensates by turning him into a manic depressive, and in his manic state he releases extra adrenaline which gives him extraordinary strength. The movie never really explores his strength much, it’s mentioned a few times, yet he never really gets into a fight where his increased strength comes into play.
His real strength comes into play with his use of the synthetic skin, which he is able to recreate with a bunch of half blown up computers, a bonfire, and stolen electricity inside a condemned warehouse. This is the set up for both the revenge impersonations and when he essentially impersonates himself to spend time with his girlfriend who thought he died in the explosion. The explanation for the synthetic skin is somewhere between believable and unbelievable. I find that it’s more believable than the typical masks used in spy movies like Mission: Impossible due to the explanation that it’s actually synthetic skin at a cellular level rather than just a rubber mask, and yet it’s still a little tough to believe that even a second skin could easily be fashioned into a pull over mask that’s 100% realistic. Especially when they never explained how he recreated the hair, which is similar and yet quite different from skin. But putting past the minor believability issue, the scenes where he impersonates the mob members are excellent, with the right amount of bluffing and convincing to trick the other members of the gang.
The secondary story to this movie is Liam Neeson’s mental descent, as he is meting out his revenge on the members of Durant’s gang and Durant himself, he is becoming less and less like his old scientific self. I think the biggest problem with this is that the very first person he goes after, he pretty much directly kills. It would have been better in my opinion if he started out with the second gang member who he doesn’t kill, but instead sets up for Durant to do the actual killing. But in the end, he realizes that he has become on the inside the monster that he looks like on the outside, which I thought was a really unique way to explain his decision to more or less become a hero at that point, or at least an anti-hero.
The other high point of this movie is the special effects make up. I’ve recently gotten into the Syfy show Face Off which just wrapped up its second season this past week. It’s a reality competition show between special effects make up artists, and it’s fantastic to see what one to three people can cook up over the course of just three days. The look of Darkman’s horribly burnt face is really incredible to look at. I also thought that when the synthetic skin started to decay by bubbling and melting looked amazing as well. The low point of the movie for me was whenever Liam Neeson gets triggered into one of his rage episodes, seeing flashes of brain impulses and other random images dissolve across the screen in what I felt was a very cheesy way. Every time it happened, I laughed out loud. The other minor point that I thought didn’t make much sense was when the mobsters raided Liam’s lab, and they used the wooden leg gun again, leaving the guy with one leg to just hop around and do nothing. It made sense to use it in the first scene, because they were hiding it from the rival mob boss, but it didn’t make sense that they were trying to hide their intentions to Liam in any way. Also, in case you’re wondering, I keep calling him Liam because his name wasn’t very memorable to me, I recognize him a lot more as Liam Neeson than as his character in this movie, and he’s also not really referred to as Darkman until the very end. But in the end, I did enjoy the movie and it’s making me want to watch Payback and the Punisher soon. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.