Darkman is based on a 1990 superhero action film directed by Sam Raimi. The film stars Liam Neeson as Peyton Westlake, a scientist who is attacked and left for dead by a ruthless mobster, Durant (played by Larry Drake) after his girlfriend, an attorney (played by Frances McDormand) runs afoul of a corrupt developer (played by Colin Friels). Westlake survives, but is left with burns over most of his body. While hospitalized as a comatose John Doe, he is unwittingly subjected to a radical treatment that destroys the nerve endings connected to his skin, neutralizing his ability to sense physical pain but increasing his brain's emotional output to compensate. Now half-crazed, Westlake escapes the hospital and decides to get revenge on the criminals who took his life away, but now as a masked vigilante, known as Darkman.
Darkman was generally well-received by critics and performed well at the box office, grossing almost $49 million worldwide, well above its $16 million budget. This financial success spawned two direct-to-video sequels, Darkman II: The Return of Durant and Darkman III: Die, Darkman, Die, as well as numerous comic books, video games and action figures. Over the years, Darkman has become regarded as a cult film.
Scientist Peyton Westlake (Neeson) is developing a new type of synthetic skin to aid burn victims. He is frustrated with a flaw in the "skin", which causes it to rapidly disintegrate after being exposed to light for 99 minutes; however, it remains intact in darkness. Despite his devotion to the project, he cannot get past this limitation.
Westlake's girlfriend, attorney Julie Hastings (McDormand), comes upon an incriminating document proving that corrupt developer Louis Strack Jr. (Friels) and mobster Robert G. Durant (Drake) have been giving bribes to members of the zoning commission. In search of the document, Durant and his minions attack and injure Westlake, retrieve the document, then blow up his lab. The blast throws Westlake clear of the lab; he survives but is hideously burned. He is brought to a hospital and subjected to a radical treatment in which the nerves to the pain centers of his brain are destroyed. Removing this sensory input gives him enhanced strength due to adrenal overload and keeps his injuries from incapacitating him, but it also destabilizes his moods and mental state.
Westlake escapes the hospital and sets out to get revenge on Strack and Durant. He also seeks to re-establish his relationship with Hastings. To hide his scarring and blend into crowds, Westlake rebuilds enough of his equipment to make his synthetic skin, but is still unable to overcome the 99-minute window of integrity. Thus, he can only appear briefly in public as himself (or later as others, whose features he is able to duplicate) in daylight, and otherwise wears bandages and a trenchcoat in his identity as Darkman. He is able to make masks in advance and store them for long periods by keeping them from light sources. He takes the opportunity to observe important people, such as his enemies, so he can masquerade as them.
Westlake eventually succeeds in destroying his enemies but is unable to return to his old life and thus continues his existence as Darkman. Running away from Julie as they leave an elevator, Westlake is seen from behind putting on a mask which, as seen in the final shot of the movie, is the face of Bruce Campbell.Sequels
Darkman II: The Return of Durant
In this 1994 direct-to-video sequel, Scientist Peyton Westlake (now played by Arnold Vosloo) continues to work on his synthetic skin, whilst fighting crime as Darkman.
Despite looking as if he had been killed in the first movie, Robert G. Durant survived and was in fact comatose in the time since the helicopter explosion that occurred during the first film's climax, and returns to take over organized crime in the city with semi-automatic particle beam weapons being made by an inmate named Alfred Hathaway.
Trying to perfect his synthetic skin with the assistance of Dr. David Brinkman (Jesse Collins), Durant turns up, wanting Brinkman's building. In a scene reminiscent of the first movie, Brinkman is tortured and killed, leaving the work in ruins. It is up to Darkman once again to disguise himself as members of Durant's gang and he ultimately manages to destroy them from within.
When Westlake is infiltrating Durant's gang, reporter Jill Randall (Kim Delaney) discovers that Peyton Westlake is still alive while trying to prove that the facts and actions of Durant's gang show that Durant is back in business.
Darkman III: Die, Darkman, Die
In the second direct-to-video Darkman sequel, released in 1996, Peyton Westlake (again played by Vosloo) steals a bag of money from drug lord Peter Rooker (Jeff Fahey) to continue his research. Rooker is determined to find out how Darkman has his superior strength, and enlists the aid of Dr. Bridget Thorne (Darlanne Fluegel), a new character retroactively put into Darkman's origin as one of the doctors who first treated Westlake's body after he was burnt in the first movie. Obtaining a sample of Westlake's adrenaline, Dr. Thorne develops a designer steroid which enhances a person's strength at the cost of their mental agility. It is also revealed that Rooker funded her research which allowed her to develop the treatment used on Darkman in the first movie.
Learning of what has happened, Darkman plans his revenge against Rooker by impersonating him while in the company of his family and colleagues in order to bring him down. It is up to Darkman to destroy the formula to the steroid and seek vengeance against Rooker, but not at the cost of Rooker's wife and child. Darkman does create a stable synthetic skin but uses the only sample to fix the damage done to Rookers daughter.
This film shifts some of the focus from action to drama, during Peyton's scenes with Rooker's wife (played by Roxann Biggs-Dawson) and his child, reminding him of how life could have been for him.
Darkman III: Die, Darkman, Die was originally intended to be the first sequel to the original Darkman, but when Larry Drake became available to reprise his role of Durant, this entry was moved back until Darkman II: The Return of Durant had been finished and released.