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STUDIO: Universal Studios
MSRP: $19.98
RATED: R
RUNNING TIME: 276 Minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES:
- Couple a’ trailers

The Pitch

A lesson in the auteur theory encapsulated in a box set.

The Humans

Liam Neeson, Frances McDormand, Arnold Vosloo, Jeff Fahey, Larry Drake, Ted Raimi, Kim Delaney, Renee O’Connor

The Nutshell

Dr. Peyton Westlake is on the verge of a major scientific discovery: synthetic skin to replace that lost from wounds or accidents (and the famed ninety-nine minute barrier). However, his girlfriend’s discovery of a memorandum (a word that is said at least twenty times in the first movie, to my delight) that links a prominent businessman with a crime lord leads to his laboratory being destroyed and his charred body left for dead. Drastic surgery removes his ability to feel pain in order to deal with the gross disfigurement he’s suffered, and he becomes a superhero with a ridiculous laboratory in an abandoned warehouse that steals from the thieves and gives to the himself. As time passes, he mysteriously transforms into the Mummy and becomes less exciting.

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Michelle Dugar’s vagina circa baby #12.

The Lowdown

It’s always fun to watch a filmmaker’s development after the fact, to be able to trace the influences and their developments through their oeuvre. For Sam Raimi, his visual flair seemed destined to be utilized in a comic book film format; his crackerjack sensibility perfectly matched the broad tonal landscape that forms a comic book. So it’s a great joy to watch him hone his skills on Darkman, and the influence on the Spiderman films is more than evident. It also helps that the film is a hell of an entertaining diversion on its own.

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The lesson here: always set the washing machine to ‘delicate’ when cleaning your Dinklage.

Neeson makes for an appropriately campy hero, while Larry Drake is a worthy adversary in Durant. But the real gift Raimi has on display here is the little touches that help the film achieve beyond its modest aspirations. Particularly deserving of praise is the carnival sequence where Neeson is out on his ninety minute date with Frances McDormand, trying to get his life back together. What would in other hands be one of the duller stretches of the film is instead the absolute highlight as the editing and camera movement reach a crazed peak with Neeson’s character unable to hold back the uninhibited rage he is now cursed with. There’s so much to love about the movie: the fact that his lab assistant knows karate (presumably because he’s Asian), Liam Neeson wearing a jester’s hat in a brief montage shot, the Fantasia-esque lab work montages, “bring me the Asian’s finger”, etc. I could go on and on. It’s not really a great movie per se, but I can’t imagine someone not having a great time with it.

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Her malfunctioning earpiece led to a Delaneyed reaction in throwing it out to the field reporter.

Unfortunately, the sequels had no choice than to fall short of the expectations set by a movie as frenetically paced and entertaining as Raimi’s Darkman, but they do make a few mistakes beyond just being not directed by Sam Raimi*. Firstly, they kind of blow their visual load by having montages at the beginning of the film comprised of footage from the first film, as if to say “load up on your visual excitement now, because it’s a desolate desert landscape from here on out”. The second film starts out promisingly enough, with the ridiculous premise that Durant somehow survived the complete destruction that he underwent in the first film and is currently in a coma. However, the direction is uninspired, the acting is flat (Vosloo makes for a much less compelling Dr. Westlake/Darkman) and the action is tepid. There are moments that strive for the first film’s breakneck ridiculousness (the line “I HATE MEATLOAF” comes to mind), but those come few and far between the Khmer Rouge that comprises the majority of the film’s running time.

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Ranked #23 on AFI’s Greatest Opening Shots of All Time.

By the time Darkman III: Die Darkman Die rolls around (love that title, by the way), there are improvements to the giant step back that was Return of Durant. Most helpful of which is Jeff Fahey as the drug-peddling Rooker. A completely amoral villain with no regard for his own family (which plays kinda hilariously the first couple times around in the flick), Fahey hams it up and is a much more entertaining villain than the sort of stale Durant redux of the sequel. Also helping the third entry in the trilogy is slightly better set pieces that showcase an incremental increase in either budget or imagination (nothing remotely close to the original, but the running atop exploding barrels and early decapitation puts it leagues ahead of any of the action of its immediate predecessor), as well as a plotline that isn’t particularly horseshit. Actual honest-to-god sympathy was mined out of this viewer by having Darkman ingratiate himself to Rooker’s family under the guise of being Rooker himself, healing the clearly broken relationship that exists between the family and the actual man.

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"I asked for overnight delivery so they shrinkwrapped him to preserve flavor."

It’s sort of a classic move to have him relate to the loved ones of his enemy, and it works decently for whatever reason and is the only emotional resonance that is to be found in any of the three Darkman flicks. This one also hammers home the quixotic nature of his quest for the synthetic skin formula as he seems destined to never unlock the secret for himself. That said, it’s still a shitty b-movie despite being entertaining and is nowhere near on par with the original. What you really take from watching all three is what a difference having a director with a distinct visual sense can make on an otherwise mediocre concept. Recommended just to get solid examples of the auteur theory in practice, while at the same having Jeff Fahey and proof of the template for the Spiderman movies all in one package.

The Package

The flicks are spread out over two discs (with the first two on the first, Fahey on the second) although there’s inexplicably no main menu for the third film; you just get tossed right into ROOKER TIME. The transfer and new 5.1 audio on the original are solid and there is infinitely less attention paid to the look of the other two flicks (deservedly so, it should be stated). In terms of extras there’s a trailer for the first and second films, but that’s it. Quite honestly, I don’t really need anything other than screamin’ Liam, so I’m happy with the bare bones (although I bet Dr. Westlake ain’t! BAM!).

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*Something that bugged me when I saw the sequels was that Raimi allowed them a perfect out for constantly reinventing and recycling the series with new actors by ending the first film in the way he did. They kind of just shit all over that goodwill and reboot as though the films have starred Vosloo the entire time. I think the series could last forever if energetic directors were able to cast some scenery-chewing actors in each movie as Darkman continued to shift personalities. Oh well.

Darkman: 8.2 out of 10
Darkman II: The Return of Durant: 4.0 out of 10
Darkman III: Die Darkman Die: 6.0 out of 10
The DVD as a whole: Jeff Fahey out of 10