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Before Sam Raimi was the SPIDER-MAN king, he came out with DARKMAN, a new comic book hero-type character he created. Filled with comic fun, but enough dark action and badass characters to remind folks that comic book movies aren't just for kids, DARKMAN hits the spot on so many levels. With Academy Awards nominee Liam Neeson and winner Frances McDormand in the starring roles, it's not surprising the film works so well, as Rami and co. created characters you actually care for, while at the same time sporting that comic-book fun in terms of bad guys (Larry Drake is the man), action, and unique set-ups (the guy can create your face and wear it to impersonate you, for cripes sake!). Throw in the awesome score by the legendary Danny Elfman, and Raimi's signature cinematography, some great one-liners to use in your everyday life, and you have yourself one killer comic book hero that looks like a cross between the Phantom of the Opera and Freddy Krueger, and isn't fighting crime to just 'fight crime' but is doing so to extract his revenge on those who destroyed his life. While it feels a bit dated, it's still an entertaining ride, and it's fun to see where Raimi has pulled some of his more memorable SPIDER-MAN sequences from (ie, the construction zone from SPIDER-MAN 3).
DARKMAN II: THE RETURN OF DURANT (1994) - 2.5 Stars
Released direct to video, THE RETURN OF DURANT features a new director (Bradford May) and a new DARKMAN, this time played by Arnold Vosloo. For the most part, it's what you would expect from a STD sequel, although it sports some qualities that actually ranks it higher than most. For one, Drake returns as the villain- which was awesome, because he flippin' owned the part and was a fun character to keep around. Second, since DARKMAN's face is covered for the most part, having Vosloo be the leading role didn't really distract much, as he added a 'darker side' to the character. The violence here is more brutal than it's predecessor (the golf cart scene... awesome), although DARKMAN seems to be primarily obsessed with breaking the 99 minute barrier on his synthetic skin than fighting crime. Overall though, the film worked for what it was, and while nothing perfect- it was entertaining, and that's what's really important for a flick like this.
DARKMAN III: DIE DARKMAN DIE (1995) - 2 Stars
Filmed simultaneously with part II, DIE DARKMAN DIE is the lesser of the three films, mostly because the dialog and overall characters were silly, and it featured action and set ups that felt 'done before' in the series (revenge, wearing other people's faces, etc...). The highlight here is the new bad guy, played by Jeff Fahey. Fahey does such a great job creating a character you love to hate, that you almost want him to succeed in the end. He's so over the top, and so cool and crazy, that he was a nice contrast to Drake's more conservative badassness. The evil lady doctor, Fahey's wife and daughter, and Darkman's obsession with his work just added a silly element to this entry, making it way more cheesy than it should have been, even for a DARKMAN movie. A few scenes are repeated here from part II, which is blatantly obvious if you watch them back to back, but more importantly, it's the transformation of Darkman himself that left a somewhat sour taste in my mouth. Part III was great for the Fahey factor (if your a fan of the man, you owe yourself to watch him here), but lacked the originality of the first and the fun of the second.
Darkman started out as a scientist, then a 'freak' bent on revenge, then a guy who has accepted his fate and attempts to help others in need, to a guy who is obsessed with finding the cure to his synthetic skin, to a guy who doesn't really fight crime at all but is a whiny scientist with a bad complexion who only wants to work on his science and doesn't want to help anyone else unless his science is in jeopardy. Not really the transition I wanted to see or the direction the franchise should have gone (in my opinion, anyway), but it is what it is. We likely won't see another DARKMAN movie anytime soon, but if he were to come back, let's hope he leans more on the side of badass crime fighter than obsessed scientist.
Audio: DARKMAN is presented in a newly remastered 5.1 stereo track- which sounded awesome. The other two are slapped with 2.0 stereo surround. While I'm not a fan of the 2.0, it actually had a full sound quality that I couldn't complain about.