Reviewed by Scott Weinberg
Long before he hit the mainstream and dazzled the universe with his "Spider-Man" trilogy, fun-lovin' movie director Sam Raimi was (extremely) well-known by the horror crowd. Prior to earning (and nailing) a shot at the big time, Mr. Raimi (and his frequent collaborators) were responsible for "Evil Dead," "Evil Dead 2," "Army of Darkness," the little-seen (and truly bizarre) "Crimewave" -- and the first chapter in the "Darkman" trilogy, a very fine film that spawned two relatively forgettable cable-flick sequels.
Itching to make a big-time superhero movie, but unable to secure the pricey rights to established characters, Raimi and a team of screenwriters cooked up the story of Peyton Westlake, a brilliant scientist who's on the cusp of cracking the code to "synthetic skin" -- if only he could make the reaction last more than 99 minutes. And just when he's about to break through and fix that last pesky problem -- in pops the villainous Robert Durant, who promptly blows up our hero's lab and leaves him a scarred wreck of a man. But Westlake has a plan. It involves playing chameleon and impersonating whoever is necessary in an effort to bring Durant to justice!
It's all very colorful and pulpy and (thanks to Raimi's mega-slick direction) a real treat for the senses. Liam Neeson pulls off tortured-yet-heroic in fine fashion, and he's backed up by a fine supporting cast that includes Frances McDormand, Colin Friels, and a really amusing Larry Drake as the nefarious Durant. Raimi sets the tone as both playful and serious ... and the action bits are really quite excellent. The original "Darkman" will never be as well-remembered as Raimi's later Spidey flicks, but I'd offer the opinion that were it not for the lessons learned on "Darkman" -- those Spider movies wouldn't have been nearly as good.
As they often do with their smaller franchises (like the 4-flick "Tremors" set), Universal has tossed both of the made-for-cable sequels into a nifty little trilogy set. Fans of the original film will want to check out the follow-ups at least once. I did a few years back -- and I appreciate that they made the first film look even better. That's not to say they're terrible, but Bradford May's "Darkman 2: The Return of Durant" and "Darkman 3: Die Darkman Die" suffer from the normal low-budget afflictions (spotty FX, lesser actors, skimpier action, lamer
dialog) -- and when compared to Raimi's first film, the comparisons become even less flattering. Genre staple Arnold Vosloo does a generic job of stepping into the Westlake role, and the story-lines are decidedly broader this time out. Still, "fun enough junk" would be a fair way to describe both "Darkman" sequels.
You'll get all three movies in anamorphic widescreen and with DD 5.1 sound, but don't expect a whole lot in the extras department. Aside from a pair of trailers, all you're getting is some fairly cool cover art. I guess this triple feature will have to do until Universal gets Raimi to sit down for a full-bore "Darkman" special edition, but that's not about to happen anytime soon -- so if you love the original "Darkman" and you don't already own the DVD ... consider the sequels the "extra features" and just focus on the first flick. It really holds up well after 17 years, and considering how many flashy superhero flicks we've seen recently, I'd call that a pretty solid accomplishment.