Thanks to Logan and Deadpool, studios are finally learning that it's not necessary to tone down a superhero movie for a PG-13 rating in order to make money. Until now, R-rated comic book films have been a rarity, aside from the occasional Blade, Dredd, Watchmen or Sin City.
But if you go all the way back to 1990, Universal took a giant chance on an R-rated superhero movie by Sam Raimi (creator of the Evil Dead franchise) known as Darkman. It was unfortunately overlooked by audiences for many years, and critics were less than kind; USA Today called Darkman a "loud, sadistic, stupidly written, wretchedly acted film."
Over the years, however, a cult following for the film has continued to grow. Today, many fans call Darkman a diamond in the rough of superhero movies for its era, which deserves to be ranked among early '90s classics like Batman and The Crow. Here is why:
He's An Original Superhero
Darkman is NOT based on any comic book property; it's an original concept like Will Smith's Hancock or Peter Weller's Robocop, which is just as much of a rarity as an R-Rated superhero movie. You have to give respect to Raimi for crafting an anti-hero from the ground up.
Peyton Westlake is a mild-mannered but brilliant scientist working on creating synthetic skin for those who desperately need it. However, this fake skin is photosensitive, so it can only last 99 minutes in the light — but can survive just fine in the dark. Unaware of a special document in his hands, Peyton is visited by a gang of criminals who horribly disfigure him, then leave him for dead in an explosion. Managing to survive, Peyton is taken to the hospital as a John Doe, where he's given an experimental operation, severing his nerves that register pain. Without pain input, his rage, strength and adrenaline are accelerated. After escaping from the hospital, Peyton goes on the hunt for those who took his life and face away.
Like Deadpool, he's a disfigured, lovelorn man who is now hunting those who took his life away. Interested? You should be!
Liam Neeson Before He Was Famous
Before he was known as the Taken guy and even before Schindler's List, Liam Neeson played Darkman — and honestly I don't think anyone else could have done this role justice. Originally Sam Raimi was going to reunite with Bruce Campbell for it, but as much as I consider Campbell to be the king of awesomeness, I don't think he could have handled the really emotional scenes that Darkman goes through.
Liam Neeson killed it because not only is his vengeful side a total blast to watch, but we also see him deliver a great performance when his rage and insanity try to break him.
(Fun Fact: Bruce Campbell does manage to cameo in the movie, and at one point, the same car from The Evil Dead rams into Darkman during a big action scene.)
Don't Let Your Kids Watch This!
With a villain who collects the fingers of his victims, and a hero who looks like a zombie straight out of a George A. Romero film (with some of the best makeup I've ever seen, by the way), this is clearly not intended for the whole family to watch. This is Sam Raimi straight off of Evil Dead, so the movie is going to be dark, twisted and awesome all rolled into one.
For those who want to see a truly R-rated superhero flick, you got your wish, because while Darkman is not as bloody as Deadpool or the Evil Dead movies, the hero does manage to get his revenge in very brutal ways (like sticking Sam Raimi's brother out of a manhole until he is run over by traffic).
It Shows That Sam Raimi Was PERFECT For Superheroes
While Raimi tried his hardest with the original Spider-Man trilogy, most can agree that the director was out of his comfort zone; Raimi toned himself down to create superhero movies that were directed more towards kids, even though the best scenes were the darker ones, such as when Doc Ock's arms first go rogue.
With Darkman, you can see how Raimi took inspiration from so many different comics and superheroes. You have the gritty brutal killing of gangsters, very similar to the Punisher; you have him hiding his face behind a white mask and fedora with a gruff voice similar to that of Watchmen's Rorschach; and you have the cool guy with the black cape who swings around fighting crime, coming straight out of a Batman comic. The main villain is essentially a better Lex Luthor than any Lex Luthor portrayed in the Superman movies.
Thanks to Sam Raimi's insane cinematography, numerous shots in this movie feel like panels from a comic book; the best examples are the scenes that feature Darkman entering his rage mode (as shown above).
This is Sam Raimi, so his tendency to put in comedic scenes that come the hell out of nowhere is present, which yet again adds to movie's the comic-book feel. This just shows that Sam Raimi deserves another shot at a superhero franchise without being forced to tone down what he does best — give him the director's chair for Suicide Squad 2, Justice League Dark or maybe even a proper Darkman 2 (the straight-to-video sequels do not count!) with Liam Neeson returning to this role.
Raimi may be mad, but he is also a genius with his craft. Darkman is a dark and brutal superhero movie that was ahead of its time; it's an amazing action thriller that deserves more attention, and the character himself deserves another look. Check out Darkman if you haven't yet!
What upcoming superhero film would you want Sam Raimi to direct? Let me know in the comments below!