The parallels to Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop films, the original at least, are so prevalent that I like to think that they're deliberate homage. This would not be at all surprising coming from an equally over-the-top director like Sam Raimi, a cult God for the Evil Dead movies. Which leads me to wonder why one reviewer on the IMDb thought it would be cool to rent Darkman as a good date movie. So's you know, Darkman is NOT a date movie. Not in ANY WAY. It is, you might say, about as much a date movie as RoboCop is a date movie.
Before I watched Darkman yesterday, I hadn't seen it since I was about 12 years old, which was about 12 years ago, and the only thing that I remember from it are the bad guy cutting people's fingers off, the other bad guy getting stuck up through the manhole into traffic, and Darkman screaming 'JUUUUULIEEEEE!!!' Oh and I remember that my parents hated hated HATED it. In rewatching the movie, I was expecting to be confronted with an overly violent and gratuitously gory horror/action movie, but was surprised at how well made it really is. Then again, my mom is so scared of sex and violence that the only things she'll watch are Nightmare Before Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street and Finding Nemo.
It is now a little off-putting to see Liam Neeson in such a performance as he delivers in this movie, with so much screaming and moaning and face melting and close-ups of his face while watching a good friend shot in the head. Pretty rough, since he's now so well known as Oskar Schindler and Qui-Gon Jinn, both such serious and impressive characters that they're like philosophers.
So anyway, in Darkman he plays a doctor who is in the final stages of perfecting synthetic skin, which could either revolutionize cosmetic surgery or revolutionize special effects. Either way, it was a hell of a convenient thing to be working on for someone that was about to be dipped in toxic waste and come out of it much worse off than the Joker did, although not quite as bad off as Clarence from RoboCop. The problem is that he can't seem to get the skin to remain stable for more than 99 minutes, which is great for providing a time crisis for whenever he creates enough skin for himself to be able to go out in public.
Thankfully, Raimi does not spend too much time on the time limit of the skin that Peyton (Neeson) is able to create, focusing instead on such thrilling things as having Peyton disguise himself as other people in order to infiltrate the gang that attacked and disfigured him in the first place. It's a great scene when Peyton accepts a briefcase full of money as one of the gang members, while the real one is dead asleep, then the leader, Larry Drake as Durant in another great performance, comes to the room looking for the money. There's a whole series of things like that, one of my favorites being when he impersonates Durant himself. Let's just say that Durant ends up in jail for a crime that he didn't even have the fun of committing.
In a time when comic book movies are released almost constantly (at the time of Darkman's release as well as at the time of this writing), Raimi decides to invent his own character instead. The thing that I think the movie does especially well is that it doesn't all of a sudden turn a regular, albeit brilliant, doctor into a superhero, after all the villains on the street. Even Spiderman, probably the most normal of all superheroes, is turned from a regular guy ultimately into a superhero out to rid the streets of crime. Darkman is trying to regain his own life and get his wife back for the majority of the film. It is not until the closing shot that he gives himself an anonymous superhero name, accepts his fate outside everyday humanity, and the brilliant Bruce Campbell finally shows up.
I also love the way he develops his powers. He was never exposed to radiation or anything like that, he simply uses the material that he created in his lab, the synthetic skin, to enable himself to impersonate other people, and when he was rescued after the attack on his lab, the doctors cut a vital nerve, cutting off his ability to experience pain. Some of the rather convenient side-effects, for the movie at least, are superhuman strength and a tendency toward outbursts of violent rage. Dishonest carnies beware.
I can certainly understand why my parents didn't like the movie, it's not exactly the kind of thing you want your kids watching, but as far as a good action/horror film, it ranks with the best.