Dr. Payton Westlake is a brilliant scientist on the verge of a revolutionary breakthrough in liquid skin reconstruction. His lawyer girlfriend, Julie, though, leaves in his lab what later turns out to be an incriminating memo against Strack Industries.
Strack, the CEO, sends a group of vicious hit men, led by Durant (who specializes in finger removal), to destroy the memo. Grotesquely disfiguring the doctor, they set off an explosion in the lab. Maimed beyond recognition, he’s left for dead.
However, Payton is found and brought to a hospital. There, an uncaring surgeon, thinking he is one of the expendable homeless, severs his sensory nerves to deaden the pain before a class of young interns, and then warns them that such deprivation of sensory information could result in amassing super-human strength.
Which is what happens. Payton escapes into a stormy night, dons a coat and face bandages, and Darkman is born. He returns to salvage his equipment and rebuilds his laboratory in an old warehouse. With only one thing in mind, revenge, he becomes a slave to his own creation, as he transforms his face to suit the occasion.
Since Payton’s skin-masks destabilize after only a short while, his revenge outings must be accomplished swiftly. There’s a brief respite when he seeks out Julie, who is willing to give him the love and understanding he needs, but theirs is a doomed love, for in the shadows as Darkman, he whimpers softly.
Payton returns to wiping out Strack’s goons one by one, until Strack, who’s kidnapped Julie for safekeeping, faces him in a climatic showdown atop a skyscraper’s steel-frame structure. Strack, not believing the good doctor will kill him, learns otherwise when Payton replies, “I’m learning to live with a lot of things.”
Therein lies the fulfillment of the premise. The man inside the mask has changed into a monster himself. Well, Payton says, he can live with the monster outside the mask. However, he doesn’t believe anyone else could, so he’ll stay masked and hidden among the masses until… yep, you guessed it, DARKMAN 2.
Part PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, part ELEPHANT MAN, this could have been an interesting movie with an intriguing theme. The film barely shows that the lust for revenge makes one a monster. What Darkman should be agonizing over is not his grotesque disfigurement, but rather what the monster of revenge is doing to his soul. There could have been significant irony in comparing the physical monster on the outside to the monster on the inside. As it is, Payton, who is subject to a horribly violent rage, simply destroys for revenge.
The high-tech film fails for lack of a redeeming message, but passes mustard in its state-of-the-art special effects. These take the form of photographic imaging, holograms and computer graphics that occur in Payton’s laboratory. There is also a number of surrealistic montage shots, which are truly terrifying and that no one needs to see, as Payton thinks back to the night he was brutalized.
There are other horrifying things that happen, from a graphic finger-cutting scene as the movie opens to a decapitation by a speeding vehicle. The violence is cruel and destructive, helicopter chases and wild shootouts end in carnage, and people are hurled out of buildings. DARKMAN is a film that no one needs to see.
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Murder and cruel, destructive violence, including a gruesome decapitation; revenge; kidnapping; destruction of property and rebellion against authority; promiscuity; and, seven obscenities and three profanities.