Darkman: The original Liam Neeson revenge movie

As a kid, I was obsessed with Sam Raimi’s Darkman. The movie has everything a girl could want: weird comedy, romance, a hero’s fatalistic embrace of vigilantism.1 A new collector’s edition was released on Blu-ray a few days ago, and the special features include interviews with Liam Neeson, Frances McDormand and Larry Drake—a.k.a. Robert Durant, the guy who slices people’s fingers off with a cigar cutter. The Dissolve’s Noel Murray wrote about Darkman this week, and his description might explain the movie’s (unintentional) appeal to children:

… Darkman was more in step with the world of comics circa 1990 than actual comic-book movies like Batman and Dick Tracy. It isn’t that Darkman is “mature,” exactly; Raimi’s love of slapstick violence and Looney Tunes sets a tone for Darkman’s action sequences that’s half Three Stooges, half Wile E. Coyote. But untethered from the demands of any major corporate franchise, Raimi was free to bend superhero archetypes to his own will, getting underneath the classic model of the driven avenger, revealing—and reveling in—how crackpot it all is.

It was only as an adult that I realized the extent of the film’s campiness. As a child, the tongue-in-cheek quality didn’t totally register; I figured this was how violence looked in the movies. I also didn’t fully see the extent to which Darkman really isn’t very sympathetic—something Murray points out in his review. When I was younger, Darkman’s destiny was wonderfully sad. I wished he could settle down with Julie Hastings (McDormand) once he got vengeance, as much as I knew he couldn’t. But the movie’s refusal to treat him as a conventional good guy makes it easier to stomach the brutality of his vendettas. Darkman, as Murray also notes, is an early example of the Liam Neeson Gets Revenge genre, except in this case, we don’t need to bother liking him—we only need to appreciate the zeal with which he dispatches his foes.

  1. Also, an R rating.