By Domonic Riley.
Even before their current domination of the box office, superhero movies usually followed
popular characters from the Marvel and DC catalogues, but in 1990, a film released that was
unconnected to a comic series, centring on the original character of Darkman, a long-coat-
wearing anti-hero played by a young Liam Neeson.
Darkman isn’t a conventional superhero, with Neeson’s character acting as more of a
vigilante looking for vengeance than a heroic defender of the people. His backstory is as
Peyton Westlake, a brilliant scientist who’s working on a formula for synthetic skin. It’s a
great invention, but with one big flaw, each batch of skin only lasts for 99 minutes before it
disintegrates. After being severally injured and left for dead by thugs who attack his lab,
Peyton is given an experimental operation which stops him from feeling pain and increases
his strength. Horribly disfigured, and with his girlfriend thinking him dead, he sets out to kill
the people who destroyed his life.
The movie started out at the hands of director and co-writer Sam Raimi. After his attempts
to licence pulp hero The Shadow were frustrated, he decided to create his own character,
and Darkman was born. There are some stylistic similarities between the two figures,
particularly in the way they dress and disguise their faces. Raimi’s background in horror is
visible too, in the main character’s skeletal features and the way he dispatches his enemies
in gruesome ways.
Darkman isn’t really a superhero, he does have certain strengths, but chooses to use them
purely for his own ends. He uses his synthetic skin to make disguises so he can infiltrate the
gang that wrecked his lab and take his revenge on them. He doesn’t have any moral
reflection about how he could help others, and doesn’t take any responsibility for his
actions. All he cares about is claiming vengeance at any cost.
There’s no classic superhero plot either, just a relatively unimportant story focussing on real
estate fraud, rather than the usual Earth-saving heroics and countdown to disaster stories.
The only reason Darkman enters it is because his girlfriend is at risk from the main villain,
Louis Strake Jr, a property developer who ordered the attack on Peyton’s lab, and who’s
more a greedy billionaire than an evil genius. Larry Drake’s Robert G. Durant, a gangster
who carries out Strake’s wishes, could be considered the real villain. He’s calm and
confident, and while he doesn’t possess special powers, a scene near the beginning of the
movie where he severs a rival mobster’s fingers with a cigar cutter shows he doesn’t need
The real centre of the movie is the title character, and the emotional struggle he
experiences as he comes to terms with his situation. He spends months working on his skin
formula so he can disguise his injuries and reveal himself to his girlfriend, afraid she won’t
accept him in his disfigured state. It’s these things that make Darkman more than just a
pulpy film and show what can lead a brilliant scientist to become a ruthless, hate-filled killer
living in an abandoned building with only a stray cat for company.
After more than thirty years since the movie’s release, the big question is what lies ahead
for Darkman? With so many superheroes filling cinema screens, and studios diving into their
back catalogues for titles they can reboot, there’s definitely an opening for the character to
make a return.
The opportunity for a new movie is made even bigger considering that Sam Raimi has
directed the successful Spider Man trilogy, who’s main character has now become a part of
the MCU, and if Marvel were looking for a way to bring Darkman into their catalogue,
there’s also the fact they published a comic book adaptation of the movie, as well as a later
six-part limited series.
Even if Disney and Marvel don’t have any love for the character, there’s always the chance
he could return independently. With Liam Neeson now a veteran of action movies, popular
for playing dark, grisly characters with painful backstories who like punching bad guys, he
still seems the perfect fit for for the role. What would Darkman be like after thirty years of
mental torture? Would he have any morals left? Would he now be the villain? There’s so
much more to be explored about the character, and it needs to be explored as soon as