|I don't believe anyone in the movie actually calls the main character "Darkman", btw|
What to say about Darkman (1990)?
It's hard to categorize as "good", and I think my affection for it is rooted in nostalgia and the electric current I got seeing this very, very strange movie when I was 15. It came out just shortly after I'd moved to Spring, TX, where I'd live from grades 10-12. I was vaguely aware of a movie called Evil Dead 2 that you were supposed to see, but I hadn't seen it yet, and I'd never heard of Sam Raimi. I just took Darkman for what I thought it was and what I'm sure the studio brass also thought they had: a royalty-free superhero movie they could make cheaply and quickly to ride on the coattails of Batman (1989) and America's awakening interest in superhero movies about "dark" heroes.
Weirdly, the only actor in the movie I recognized (not being an LA Law watcher) was Frances McDormand, whom I recognized from Raising Arizona. McDormand plays the love interest of Liam Neeson's scientist-turned-burn-victim-turned-Darkman, and, literally, one of two female character I can think of to appear in the movie as anything but an extra.
The other female in the movie is Jenny Agutter in a walk-on part as the doctor who saved Darkman's life, but who doesn't expect her John Doe to live, and who provides the exposition regarding what's going on with our hero.
It's almost easier to see Darkman as a horror movie in the classic Universal mode. He's a misshapen, angry being causing havoc for someone, but there's no handsome hero to be the one who understands the misunderstood justice of Darkman's cause that has led him down a path of inhumane acts and giving the audience sympathy. Nope. This is a straight up monster revenge story in superhero drag.
Raimi is nowhere near the height of his powers in this movie, but you can see him working some things out - how to work with actors in a big picture, how to make his aesthetic work in a movie intended for a more mainstream audience, including gore and terror. It's also hard to believe the studio didn't monkey a bit with the movie, but it's also amazing what got left in.
Example: I'm a huge fan of the "just take the @#$%ing elephant!" sequence. You just don't see the superhero injuring carnies and verbally abusing their girlfriends in many superhero films these days.
Despite all this, at least part of Darkman's bag of tricks feels like it could be plausible any day, a sort of 3D printing of passable human flesh for burn victims to have grafted on or wear. So, maybe Raimi was on to something after all.
In a post-Marvel world, the movie fits oddly with the concept of "superhero", and movie occasionally has that dried-out look of a cheap actioner shot in LA that was so common at the time. Honestly, I'd love to see what would happen now if Sam Raimi were given $100 million to re-do this movie with zero studio interference. I think you'd have something a whole echelon even more interesting, but it wouldn't be a superhero flick. In the meantime, after what feels like a pretty novel sort of movie in execution if nothing else, by the end it's a pretty cookie-cutter stand-off with a girlfriend in peril and people shouting "Get him!" and other such amazing bits of phenomenal dialog.
I don't know what a kid today would think of the movie. It filled a certain low-budget niche in 1990, but now it would need an epic mythology and spin-off potential (not that Darkman didn't pioneer the "straight-to-VHS" sequel). There's just not enough room for "shipping" or any of that to likely catch the modern viewer's eye.
But, hey, it does give us the great visual of Ted Raimi sticking out of a manhole cover in heavy traffic.