The first edition of Sequel Suicide wrapped and my next vault review series doesn’t kickoff until Tuesday. Today, The Grey opens in theaters all across the country bringing with it the age-old debate; Nature vs. Neeson. In my opinion, it’s no competition for Neeson, but for those of you that think he’s too new to the action game to handle Big Momma, let’s look back to when he was cracking heads in 1990.
As crime boss Robert G. Durant (Larry Drake) asserts his authority over the city’s underbelly, Louis Strack (Colin Friels) is transforming the slums into futuristic high rises. Oblivious to either man’s ambitions, Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson), strives to perfect a synthetic skin that will revolutionize treatment for burn victims. His altruistic endeavors are brought to a halt when Durant and his crew toss his lab looking for an incriminating document left behind by Peyton’s girlfriend, Julie (Frances McDormand). They blow up Peyton’s lab, but he miraculously survives the explosion. Hideously disfigured, Peyton resumes his work, at first to reunite with Julie, but he soon finds it to be useful in exacting revenge.
Writer-director Sam Raimi, now known for the Spider-Man franchise, first dabbled in superhero films with Darkman. Developed from a short story Raimi had written, Darkman has everything a proper superhero needs; an origin, a love interest and despicable villains with cheesy henchmen. Though the special effects are a bit dated now, Raimi’s ability to capture the energy and ambiance of comics on film is still razor sharp. Raimi’s cheeky transitions and trademark camera angles raise Darkman far above even some of the big-budget comic films of today.
If Durant were an actual comic book villain, Larry Drake’s portrayal would rank Durant alongside the Joker and Lex Luthor in infamy. As soon as he utters the line, “I’ve got seven more points,” audiences know Durant is going to be a serious problem for our would-be hero.
Speaking of, Westlake, a.k.a. Darkman, is such a sympathetic hero. Thanks to the doctors who recover his charred body, his pain centers have been severed and adrenaline flows unregulated. The downside is that his emotions are equally unchecked and he easily flies into fits of rage or sadness. After escaping the hospital and learning his old life is gone, a heavily bandaged Westlake curls up beneath a cardboard box in an alley to avoid the rain. Neeson evolves Darkman from this pitiable being into a force of vengeance all from beneath a swath of bandages.
The Darkman prosthetic, the bare teeth and chin, the exposed bits of skull, and the skeletal hands are quite impressive and creepy. Sure, the pseudo-science attached to his recovery is questionable as is the development and limitations of his synthetic skin, but Raimi lays the ground rules for this world’s science and adheres to it. I love that Darkman’s fake faces have a plastic look and even sound rubbery when tugged.
Like any good Sam Raimi film, his brother Ted and good friend Bruce Campbell make brief appearances as Durant’s henchman, Rick and Darkman’s final shemp, respectively. Campbell’s appearance as Darkman’s final “face” is fitting seeing as how Raimi wanted him to play Darkman, but the studios didn’t.
If you’ve somehow missed Darkman all these years, do yourself a favor, get it ASAP and watch it for no other reason than to see Liam lose it at the carnival and go apeshit over a pink elephant.