While not the best of Raimi’s efforts, Darkman is still a pretty excellent movie and a fun-riff on super-hero conventions. It was seeped in B-movie sensibilities and had an excellent cast. Liam Neeson, even though he wasn’t too fond of the role, fit Darkman’s character perfectly. Of course, neither Raimi nor Neeson were big name draws at the time and the movie subsequently tanked at the box office. Like many of Raimi’s movies, Darkman would enjoy a second-life on video as a cult favorite. But what about the sequels?
Step into the dark side of adventure with the all-new The Darkman Trilogy collection. From Sam Raimi (Spider-Man films), this complete collection follows all the daring journeys and action-packed escapades of the classic action hero, Darkman, as he assumes alternate identities in order to battle evil. Inspired by the pulp comics and horror movies of the 1930,The Darkman Trilogy is a stunning collection! Featuring Liam Neeson (Batman Begins) and Larry Drake (TV’s L.A. Law), these exhilarating films will leave you on the edge of your seat with non-stop action, amazing special effects, and never-ending thrills! This collection includes the original Darkman, Darkman II: The Return of Durant, and Darkman III: Die, Darkman, Die!.
Despite what the above synopsis says, Liam Neeson does not star as Darkman for all three of the movies included. He’s in for only the first flick, replaced by Arnold Vosloo (24) in the cheapie sequels. Oh, and Raimi only directs the first Darkman. The original Darkman adventure introduces Dr. Payton Westlake, a scientist on the verge of a major breakthrough in synthetic skin. Along the way, his girlfriend runs afoul with a few shady folks, leading up to a rather nasty explosion in Westlake’s lab, an explosion which changes his life forever. How forever? Well, his face is burned off, so he opts to use his synthetic skin, which lasts only 99 minutes, to exact his revenge.
If you’ve seen Raimi’s Evil Dead movies, then you’ll no doubt notice the same dark humor here, as well. It’s almost like an unrestrained version of his Spider-Man trilogy. There’s hyper-kinetic camera movements, quick takes, humorous acts of violence, and over-the-top antics. Neeson, who is not exactly right for the role but better than his replacement, Vosloo, has to carry the brunt of this. And boy, there are times you can tell he is none-too-pleased with it. There are scenes where you can just read it in his face, “I do not want to be here.” He’s not bad in the role, but his over-acting for this movie just . . . isn’t that good. There are scenes where Darkman is stark-raving mad, and Neeson just can’t pull it off. His wildness seems so forced and so uncomfortable for him that it draws attention to how ill-suited he is for the role. I’m a huge fan of his work, but here? He’s a shade out of place. I will say the scene where he goes on a “ninety minute date” with his girlfriend is well done, mostly due to Riami’s clever editing of Neeson’s freak-out.
Darkman obviously has a lot of comic book sensibilities, but it also has a delicious mean streak to it. Aside from being so over-the top and laced with dark humor, there’s also a rawness to it. It’s not a perfect movie, though. Like I said, Neeson’s acting isn’t perfect and can sometimes be distracting and Durant makes for a pretty cool henchman in this flick. The plot is nothing special, but it is given a book by it’s blatant homage to comic books and movies from the 1930’s. Plus the tragic nature of Darkman’s relationship to his girlfriend does actually add to the movie. Overall, a good, but not great movie. And, without saying, the best Darkman movie of the trilogy.
So what of the rest? Well . . . there’s not much you can say about them. After the first movie proved to be financially successful at the box office, direct to video offerings were made and . . .they are definitely of direct to video quality.
As Darkman continues his search for the formula for synthetic skin, Durant awakens from a lengthy coma to retake his place in the criminal underworld. As you can expect, hilarity ensues. Unfortunately, the hilarity is unintentional and . . . well, the sequels just aren’t good. The third movie features a new bad guy, played by Jeff Fahey, who’s retrofitted into Darkman’s origin. Said bad guy is a sinister crime figure who’s out to tap the secret of Darkman’s superhuman strength. Using his diabolical mistress and his neglected family as bait, the nefarious villain draws Darkman into a trap.
Vosloo is a fine replacement for Neeson, though I have to admit I’m let down at the approach to the sequels. Given the nature of the synthetic skin, they could have gotten anyone, even big names, to star in latter Darkman movies, but they stick with the same guy for two movies? Why not try to shake things up? Bring in a new face who can really chew the scenery whenever Darkman adopts a new personality? Well, they were direct-to-video sequels, so that explains it right there. And Vosloo is fine enough as Darkman, though he seems to have lost the madness that Darkman exhibited a few times in the first flick. The sequels are pretty forgettable. In Darkman II, Durant has amassed these laser weapons, which result in really nothing more than pretty hokey special effects. There’s not an ounce of suspense in this film (though it seems a bit more graphic than the first Darkman) and everyone seems to be going through the steps. Darkman III actually seems a bit more in vein with the first film. There’s actually a neat subplot with Darkman falling for Rooker’s wife. Aside from that little creepiness, and Fahey acting so over-the-top, it’s still a lousy movie on par with the first sequel.
And, much like the two sequels to Darkman, the DVDs are a bit of a letdown. Given Raimi’s newfound popularity due to Spider-Man, and Neeson’s role in Batman Begins, this movie really deserves a “Special Edition” release. While we do get a new 5.1 audio transfer for the first Darkman, the two sequels retain their original 2.0 set-up. All three films also retain their original transfer, which . . . isn’t the best. All three, especially the first film, could really use some restoration. The first two movies share their own disc and, for some unknown reason, the third flick gets a separate disc. I don’t understand why Univeral couldn’t give us some extras to go with the first Darkman and let the two sequels share their own disc. I . . . just don’t get it. The extras are very light, with only the first two films getting both menu screens and trailers. The third film gets neither (that’s right, no menu). The only extras are trailers for the first two Darkman flicks. That’s all.
So, I hate to say it, but this is worth at least a Rental. If this was a two-disc set of the first Darkman movie, or if more extras were attached, this would be a release I’d easily recommend. But, since it’s a two-disc set with the only good movie of the franchise sandwiched with on the first disc with an inferior sequel, I can’t give it a solid go. If you don’t have any of the films, this is an easy and inexpensive way to pick them up. You get all three in one shot, and it’s pretty cheap. Oddly enough, I’ve seen the price of this disc rival the price of the original Darkman DVD release from ages ago, so this is probably your best bet. Much like the original Darkman release, the extras are slim to none here, so that, too, may affect your judgment. The first Darkman is worth picking up, no question, but you may want to be careful about the sequels. I honestly have no idea if we can expect a new Darkman release down the line, so you may want to seriously consider picking up The Darkman Trilogy collection. The first Darkman, spearheaded by Raimi, is easily worth it.
The Darkman Trilogy is now available on DVD. Darkman is also currently available on HD-DVD.