In 1990 — over a decade before he was finally handed the reins to make a “real” superhero movie with Spider-Man, and after failing to secure the rights to adapt either The Shadow or Batman — cult director Sam Raimi (Evil Dead) circumvented the big-time licensees and created Darkman, a sly inversion of superhero tropes which also doubles as a revenge thriller. In Darkman, Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is a scientist working on a formula for artificial human skin; meanwhile, his girlfriend, attorney Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand), has discovered an incriminating document that proves shady real estate developer Louis Strack Jr. (Colin Friels) has been bribing members of the city zoning commission. Strack sends a group of mobster goons to Westlake’s lab, wrongly believing that he has possession of the document. Left for dead, a physically and psychologically disfigured Westlake escapes into the shadows to perfect the artificial skin, then use it to disguise himself and infiltrate Durant’s organization, working both to protect Julie and exact his revenge on the men who destroyed his life. A masterful superhero noir that deserves a vaunted place next to Tim Burton’s 1989 take on Batman, Darkman was Raimi’s first chance to realize his madcap, stylized vision with a substantial budget, and it was not wasted.
Content warning for violence/gore