August 2, 2008

DVD Review: Darkman III - Die Darkman Die

The year was 1990, unable to make The Shadow (as he had wanted), Sam Raimi created his own cloaked hero. That hero was the very damaged Peyton Westlake in Darkman. The film proved to be a moderate box office success, and went on to become a cult hit on DVD. It did well enough to spawn a pair of direct to video sequels, the mediocre first one called The Return of Durant, and then this 1996 outing, Die Darkman Die. Each successive film took a step down in quality, yet remains oddly watchable. I guess it helps that the Darkman character is as intriguing as he is, even if he never reaches the heights of the original.

This sequel continues Westlake's search for the humanity within, as well as his neverending quest to perfect his synthetic skin. This film also has Darkman embracing the hero within, crusading for the underdog under the dark of night, although we do not see much of this in action it is mentioned in the opening voiceover as the origins are recapped with footage from the original and the reshoots used in the sequel. Beyond that, we finally move beyond his battles with Durant, introducing a new nemesis, Peter Rooker, played by Jeff Fahey.

As the film opens, we meet Rooker on some random dock, surrounded by his henchmen. He is there to oversee the arrival of a steroid shipment (ooh, very edgy: "It's not drugs, it's power!"), but this is a meeting doomed from the get go, as Darkman is also roaming the dock disguised as one of the henchman. He is there not only to break up the drug deal, but because he needs a little funding. We all know that late night drug deals on the waterfront are rife with cash to be taken. So, disguised as one of the bad guys he makes off with a bag full of cash, just as the man he copied stumbles back into the picture, conveniently tipping off Rooker.

Rooker than gives a rather enigmatic line: "So, it's true." Makes one suspect that some time has passed between the second and third films where Darkman was active on the crime fighting front, allowing the legend of a crusader to flourish, much like Batman.

Now with our major players introduced, the plot can begin in earnest. Forget about Darkman as a crime fighter and think of him as a man fighting for his life and his scientific discoveries. Why? The answer is simple. Rooker wants Darkman's secrets, he wants his powers. Although, how he knows as much as he does is a bit of a mystery.

What follows is a back and forth battle between Rooker and Darkman. The stakes are raised as Darkman is duped into giving up his skin secrets, as he is the target of an experiment. Everything builds to a finale where Darkman faces off with some newly enhanced henchmen, using the findings from the experiment on Westlake. Nothing ever feels terribly personal, but I still found myself watching.

The story is ridiculous; the science does not feel ground in reality, and the performances? Well, they just soar over the top and into the realm of camp. Jeff Fahey is insane in this movie, like a living cartoon as he tries to match te presence Larry Drake had in the first two, and never quite reaching it. Die Darkman Die cannot be called a good movie, not by a good distance. It is a bad movie whose underlying ideas have some potential while never being explored to any worthy depth.

Watching all three Darkman films in a row reveals an interesting character of considerable depth that is never put to the use that it could be. Actually, it almost begs for a big screen redo, not necessarily a sequel, but a remake. There are a number of filmmakers out there that could do the character justice and give him back some of his pride. There is a lot of depth to the character, a man who began his journey as a brilliant scientist who is deeply in love, having all of that torn from him, then having to deal with never feeling anything, the high levels of adrenaline, the use of the masks, plus the considerably damage to the psyche. It is a fascinating character, it is a shame that these sequels never deliver on that depth.

Audio/Video. Not terribly good. It is anamorphic widescreen, and the transfer is clean, but it seems overly dark and lacks detail. The audio is stereo and does the job, although it is a bit flat.

Extras. This is the second disk of the Darkman: The Franchise Collection set and it features no extras, not even a trailer. The film does not even have a menu, put it in and it plays, no frills.

Bottomline. Oddly watchable, but still bad movie. This is a series that got gradually worse. The only one truly worth watching is the original. Still, fans will likely have a soft spot somewhere for this film. Watch at your own risk.

Not Recommended.


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