I had never seen the two straight to video sequels to Darkman until recently so I thought it was time to take a look at the franchise which is somehow over 30 years old now. We’ll start off with the original Darkman starring Liam Neeson and Frances McDormand then go on to the sequels.
Plot: When thugs employed by a crime boss lead a vicious assault on Dr. Peyton Wilder (Liam Neeson), leaving him literally and psychologically scarred, an emergency procedure allows him to survive. Upon his recovery, Wilder can find solace only by returning to his scientific work developing synthetic skin, and seeking revenge against the crime boss. He assumes a phantom avenger persona called Darkman, who, with malleable facial qualities, is able to infiltrate and sow terror in the criminal community.
This is a movie that has pretty much been forgotten by many but it’s always had a special place in my heart. Liam Neeson plays our protagonist Peyton Westlake who starts off as as scientist who has nearly perfected regenerating human skin but it all goes wrong when he mistakenly comes into possession of documents from his far too nosey girlfriend Julie (France McDormand).
Directed by Sam Rami, Darkman has all of his trademark editing and rapid-fire pacing that will keep you glued until the end credits; admittedly some of the visual effects haven’t held up well with some noticeable blue screen but we get some stop motion effects which I never get tired of seeing.
This is one of my favourite Liam Neeson roles because he gets to say dialogue like “take the fucking elephant” which to this day makes me laugh every time I watch it.
Raimi started out with Darkman as a short story inspired by the Universal horror movies and you can tell; although it’s mostly darkly funny, there is a Frankenstein’s monster type tragedy to it.
Colin Friels chews the scenery as the main villain Louis Strack Jr. and he’s only let down by his “I built it all” speech at the end which is so over the top that with Raimi directing I’m pretty sure was entirely deliberate.
The other villain Robert Durant played to perfection by Larry Drake terrified me when I was a child but watching him now, he’s really more funny than anything. He is still menacing enough and you can’t wait to watch him get his comeuppance at the end. He makes more of a lasting impression than Friels so he obviously did something right.
Danny Elfman’s score is fantastic, filled with his instantly recognizable choirs which helps to create the dark atmosphere however, Batman will always be his masterpiece.
In terms of action we get explosions, shoot-outs, chases, violent kills and even a satisfying bad guy death at the end.
Overall, Darkman is still hugely entertaining with some great performances and plenty of action; it’s a little dated in parts now but still well worth watching.
Darkman II: The Return of Durant (1995)
Plot: Darkman and Durant return and they hate each other as much as ever. This time, Durant has plans to take over the city’s drug trade using high-tech weaponry. Darkman must step in and try to stop Durant once and for all.
I’m a little baffled as to how Durant has returned considering he was in an exploding helicopter at the end of the last film. He starts off in a coma but in a Rise of Skywalker fashion, it’s kind of “Somehow Durant has returned” and he awakens now having to take medication and has a minor limp. Although Darkman wasn’t not based on an actual comic book it feels like it and we all know no one ever stays dead in comics.
The late Larry Drake is as entertaining as ever as Durant and as I said above I used to find him scary as a youngster but now it’s just more campy and funny. He’s still a malevolent piece of work and makes for a hateful villain.
Liam Neeson only did the one movie and is replaced by Arnold Vosloo (Hard Target/The Mummy) who takes over the role of Peyton Westlake. It’s nice to see him play a hero for once and we were so used to seeing him play villains back then. He makes for a sympathetic and tragic figure who is at one hand a brilliant scientist but his thirst for revenge is what makes him a monster. He spouts a few one-liners too and tends to laugh maniacally when he’s fighting someone which makes him endlessly entertaining as a character. It sucks that Vosloo doesn’t get listed on the covers of either the second or third movies and he’s the main character!
Composer Danny Elfman is replaced by Randy Miller who keeps the main themes and maintains the dark strings from the first movie; visually it feels the same as the original too so it does feel like it’s a continuing story.
Everyone is so over the top in these movies that you find yourself smiling and just enjoy the ride; Vosloo seems to be enjoying himself too.
We get several explosions and a few set-pieces to keep things movie but as these movies are all around 90 minutes long they move fast and are never boring. They’re all R-rated too so they don’t skimp on violence.
Overall, Darkman II is utter nonsense but it’s still a fun ride and I welcome seeing Arnold Vosloo as a hero out for revenge; Larry Drake is wonderfully over the top as Durant and there is enough action to keep things moving.
Darkman III: Die Darkman Die (1996)
Plot: Burn-scarred scientist Peyton Westlake (Arnold Vosloo) roams the night as his alter ego, the cloaked Darkman. When Darkman, who often steals from the corrupt, crosses drug kingpin Peter Rooker (Jeff Fahey), he finds a worthy adversary. Rooker tricks Darkman into an operation, implanting a remote-control device in his mind. To free himself from his enemy, Darkman must now take down Rooker or die — a job that will draw the recluse unexpectedly close to his target’s family.
This may have one of the best action movie titles of all time; I can’t believe it took me this long to watch it with a name like that. I also think that this entry is superior to part II as we not only get Arnold Vosloo returning as Darkman but the villain is played by Jeff Fahey who is as magnetic as always.
His character Peter Rooker is as cold as ice ignoring his little girl and wife embarking on affairs and generally being a crime boss so he is totally irredeemable. He wants to take Peyton’s powers and make his henchman stronger so they can take down a Senator who is threatening to destroy Rooker’s business.
This has more action than part 2 but also has some awesome kills including someone getting decapitated and another goon getting electrocuted so it’s satisfying stuff.
Fahey gets to go full Joker for the finale where he laughs like a madman while trying to kill Peyton but ends up being thrown in an industrial shredder instead, hell yeah!
Aside from the awesome kills there is still heart to this entry with Peyton taking a shine to Rooker’s family as he can see his wife and daughter are neglected and just want love.
Vosloo once again gets to spout a few one-liners while laughing as he takes out the trash making this another fun entry in the series.
These straight to video sequels may not have the budget of the first but they still have real explosions and satisfying action scenes to be worth a watch. I know some who just hate movies because they’re straight to video but that’s they’re loss as that’s where you find some real gems.
Overall, Darkman III is better than part II with more action and Jeff Fahey stealing the show as the villain. Arnold Vosloo is still sympathetic but quite unhinged as Peyton making for another engaging slice of madness.
So that’s my opinion on the Darkman trilogy; the first one is the best due to the greatness of Liam Neeson and Sam Raimi’s direction but the two straight to video sequels have their moments with 3 having the added bonus of Jeff Fahey. The world of Darkman goes beyond the movies according to our very own david j. moore with a pilot series that was aired in 1992 which is hard to find and I am currently on a quest to pick it up for myself. There was also a spin-off novel series of four books with Durant as the bad guy in the first one. They were out before the straight to video sequels. After the 1990 movie, there was also a six-issue comic book series that tried to create a mythos around Darkman, but it wasn’t a success and Darkman wouldn’t appear in comics until later when Dynamite got the license and teamed him up with Ash from Army of Darkness. Then there is the NES game (and I used to have the C64 game too) so Darkman has more to explore outside of the films. Thanks to David for giving some insight into this.