Darkman is a 1990 superhero action film directed by Sam Raimi that was based on a short story he wrote that paid homage to Universal horror films of the 1930s. It stars Liam Neeson as Peyton Westlake, a scientist who is attacked and left for dead by a ruthless mobster, Durant (played by Larry Drake) after his girlfriend, an attorney (played by Frances McDormand) runs afoul of a corrupt developer (played by Colin Friels). Westlake survives, but is left totally disfigured. While hospitalized, he is subjected to a radical treatment that destroys the nerves connected to his brain, neutralizing his ability to sense pain. Now half-crazed, Westlake escapes the hospital and decides to get revenge on the criminals who took his life away, but now as a masked vigilante, known as Darkman.
Unable to secure the rights to either The Shadow or Batman, Raimi decided to create his own superhero and struck a deal with Universal Studios to make his first Hollywood studio movie. He was subjected to a grueling screenwriting process and equally difficult post-production battle with the studio.
Darkman was generally well-received by critics and performed well at the box office, grossing almost $49 million worldwide, well above its $16 million budget. This financial success spawned two direct-to-video sequels, Darkman II: The Return of Durant and Darkman III: Die, Darkman, Die, as well as numerous comic books, video games and action figures.
Westlake's girlfriend, attorney Julie Hastings (McDormand), comes upon an incriminating document proving that corrupt developer Louis Strack Jr. (Friels) and mobster Robert G. Durant (Drake) have given bribes to members of the zoning commission. In search of the document, Durant and his minions attack and injure Westlake, retrieve the document, then blow up his lab. The blast throws Westlake clear of the lab; he survives but is hideously burned. He is brought to a hospital and subjected to a radical treatment in which the nerves to the pain centers of his brain are destroyed. Removing this sensory input gives him increased strength due to adrenal overload and keeps his injuries from incapacitating him, but it also destabilizes his moods and mental state.
Westlake escapes the hospital and sets out to get revenge on Strack and Durant. He also seeks to re-establish his relationship with Hastings. To hide his scarring and blend into crowds, Westlake rebuilds enough of his equipment to make his synthetic skin, but is still unable to overcome the 99-minute window of integrity. Thus, he can only appear briefly in public as himself (or later as others, whose features he is able to duplicate) in daylight, and otherwise wears bandages and a trenchcoat in his identity as Darkman. He is able to make masks in advance and store them for long periods by keeping them from light sources. He takes the opportunity to observe important people, such as the henchmen of his enemies, so he can masquerade as them.
There are at least two scenes in which the Westlake/Darkman personas have obviously become so closely intertwined that it becomes an exercise in futility to differentiate between the "facade" and the supposedly "real" personality of the title character. One of these involves a flash of berserker rage that "Westlake" experiences over a trivial insult at a carnival booth. The other involves "Darkman" very calmly, almost sadly, informing a villain that "I've learned to live with a lot of things" just before dropping him from atop an office building construction project.
Westlake eventually succeeds in destroying his enemies but is unable to return to his old life and thus continues his existence as Darkman.
It is implied in the first film that he is gay, even attracted to one of the members in his gang, although he demonstrates an interest in women in his subsequent appearances.
As Raimi and his producing partner Robert Tapert progressed through various drafts, they realized that there was a potential franchise on their hands. Universal brought in screenwriting brothers Daniel and Joshua Goldin to work on the script. According to Daniel, they were presented with various drafts and "lots of little story documents. There was just material everywhere; drafts seemed to go in many directions." Goldin said that they "spent a lot of time talking and pulling together a way of making the story work. I think that mostly we talked in terms of the nuts and bolts of the story." The Goldins added new lines of dialogue, new characters and bits of action. The studio still wasn't satisfied so the Raimi brothers wrote drafts six through twelve before they had a shooting script. For Raimi, he wanted to emphasize Peyton/Darkman's arc over the course of the film. He said, "I decided to explore a man's soul. In the beginning, a sympathetic, sincere man. In the middle, a vengeful man committing heinous acts against his enemies. And in the end, a man full of self-hatred for what he's become, who must drift off into the night, into a world apart from everyone he knows and all the things he loves."
Look-wise, the filmmaker was interested in paying homage to Universal horror films of the 1930s. Production designer Randy Ser remarked, "if you look at Darkman's lab that he moves into, which is an old warehouse, what was on my mind was Dr. Frankenstein. There were a number of references visually to what we were thinking about in regards to those films."
McDormand and Neeson worked closely rehearsals, rewriting the three love scenes they had together after he becomes Darkman. They got through these scenes, according to the actress, by depending on "each other's knowledge, of theater and each other."
Durant's finger collection developed over the Pfarrer and Raimi brothers drafts. The director wanted a specific trademark for the character - one that hinted at a military background.
Liam Neeson worked in ten-piece makeup, sometimes for 18 hours. He saw the lengthy time spent in extensive makeup as a challenge and liked "the idea of working behind a mask on camera, and just exploring the possibilities of what that entailed." He and the makeup artists did tests using certain glues and resins. They also timed how fast they could put the makeup and costume on. Neeson worked with the costume designer on his outfit, including aspects like the cloak. The hardest part for the actor was speaking with false teeth and he ended up doing "a lot of work on my voice - I didn't want the [false teeth] to move at all."
In its opening weekend, the film grossed a total of $8,054,860 in 1,786 theaters. To date, the film has grossed a total of $48,878,502 worldwide.
The film enjoyed generally favorable reviews. Los Angeles Times film critic Michael Wilmington felt that Darkman was the only comic book movie at the time "that successfully captures the graphic look, rhythm and style of the superhero books." Terrence Rafferty of The New Yorker said, "Raimi works from inside the cheerfully violent adolescent-male sensibility of superhero comics, as if there were no higher style for a filmmaker to aspire to, and the absence of condescension is refreshing." USA Today gave the film three out of four stars. However, Richard Corliss in Time said that Raimi wasn’t "effective with actors" and People’s Ralph Novak called Darkman, a "loud, sadistic, stupidly written, wretchedly acted film." Darkman was singled out for notice by comic-book writer Peter David in the Comics Buyers Guide as "The Perfect Super-Hero Film of All Time. Darkman holds a 74 percent "fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
Despite looking as if he had been killed in the first movie, Robert G. Durant survived and was in fact comatose in the time since the helicopter explosion that occurred during the first film's climax, and returns to take over organized crime in the city.
Trying to perfect his synthetic skin with the assistance of Dr. David Brinkman (Jesse Collins), Durant turns up, and in a scene reminiscent of the first movie, Brinkman is tortured and killed, leaving the work in ruins. It is up to Darkman once again to disguise himself as members of Durant's gang and he ultimately manages to destroy them from within.
When Westlake is infiltrating Durant's gang, reporter Jill Randall discovers that Peyton Westlake is still alive while trying to prove that the facts and actions of Durant's gang show that Durant is back in business.
Learning of what has happened, Darkman plans his revenge against Rooker by impersonating him while in the company of his family and colleagues in order to bring him down. It is up to Darkman to destroy the formula to the steroid and seek vengeance against Rooker, but not at the cost of Rooker's wife and child.
This film shifts some of the focus from action to drama, during Peyton's scenes with Rooker's wife (played by Roxann Biggs-Dawson), and his child, reminding him of how life could have been for him.
Darkman III: Die, Darkman, Die was originally intended to be the first sequel to the original Darkman, but when Larry Drake became available to reprise his role of Durant, this entry was moved back until Darkman II: The Return of Durant had been finished and released.
The origin is very similar to the one in the original film as Peyton discovers his synthetic skin, is attacked and left for dead by Durant and his gang. In this version, however, Peyton is already married to Julie, and she is killed in the explosion.
As in the movies, Westlake becomes the Darkman, and seeks vengeance on Durant and his gang. Darkman's headquarters are based in an abandoned observatory overlooking the city, and he is wanted by the police for his actions against Durant's gang.
The pilot ends with some scenes from the first movie (particularly of Darkman and Durant fighting) and Darkman stating that Justice will answer with a brand new face.
"This leads to an interesting story on Darkman. Universal didn't know they owned the merchandise rights. It didn't show up on any of their merchandise sheets. I had to convince them to spend a little time and have their lawyers look into it. I knew at the time that film was made Sam (Raimi) didn't have the power to retain those rights so it HAD to be Universal even though they said they didn't have them. Turns out I was right and afterwards Darkman started to show up in all their catalogs of films available to license...
In 2005, SOTA produced two versions of their Darkman action figure (including interchangeable head and hands to allow the figure to be either bandaged or revealing his scarred visage), as well as a Darkman statue.
Dynamite Entertainment announced in 2006 that it had reached an agreement with Universal Studios Consumer Products Group to produce original comics based on Darkman. A bimonthly limited series entitled Darkman vs. Army of Darkness was published from August 2006 to March 2007. A regular solo series will follow in December 2007.
In November 2007, Sideshow Collectibles put up for pre-order a 1/4" scale "Premium" Format Figure version of Darkman that would be released 3rd Quarter 2008.