1990’s Darkman holds the interesting distinction of being one of the best comic book movies not actually based on a comic book. 2000’s Unbreakable, directed by M. Night Shyamalan and starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, is another contender for that award.
Here’s the back story: director Sam Raimi was a celebrated cult filmmaker in the 1980s best known for the Evil Dead series. When the director was unable to get the rights to adapt famous comic book characters Batman or The Shadow, he moved on to Plan B and created his own superhero. That hero is Darkman, played by Liam Neeson. His girlfriend is played by Frances McDormand. And the main bad guys are played by Colin Friels as a ruthless billionare and Larry Drake from the TV series “L.A. Law” and the cult 1992 horror flick Dr. Giggles, as a crazy mob boss.
Watching Darkman now, you’ll swear it’s based on a comic book and that’s a testament to Raimi’s ability to transform a well-known genre into original material. It’s no masterpiece and certainly isn’t on the level of a Dark Knight or X-Men 2, but it works well on its own terms. It’s considerably more violent than similar genre titles and it definitely earns its R rating.
Darkman was a financial success in 1990, earning a solid $48 million dollars. There were even direct-to-video sequels made, albeit without the involement of Raimi or Neeson. Ironically, its success contributed to Raimi later being able to direct a “real” comic book movie… three of them actually when he was behind the camera for the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy. Raimi’s latest work, Oz the Great and Powerful, opens March 8th.
For genre fans who have not see Darkman, I found it to be a lot of fun and it’s well worth checking out.