Sam Raimi's fourth directorial effort and his first with major studio backing doesn't depart too far from the thrills-and-special-effects approach that made his first couple of films so ingeneously entertaining. But this pulpy action flick does suffer a bit from the strings that come attached to Hollywood money. The long list of screenwriting credits may include the director's brother, Ivan, and his friends, Joel and Ethan Coen, but the script that emerges is still somewhat scattered. The plot seems rather convoluted for such superheroic subject matter, giving us too much setup and too little of the shadowy protagonist's exploits. After all, in a real golden-age comic book -- the obvious literary precursor to this sort of movie -- the hero's origin is usually dashed off as a prologue to the central action. Here we have to wait for the two inferior, straight-to-video sequels for Darkman's continued adventures. When the film does connect, though, it's good, adolescent fun, from Liam Neeson's broodingly archetypal scientist/avenger to the colorful line-up of villians both corporate and underworld. Frances McDormand seems to have wandered in from another, more realistic drama, but she makes a refreshingly believable vigilante girlfriend; she's no Vickie Vale, thank heaven. The real test of any action flick is the influence of its special effects, and Darkman's signature move -- the illusion of one human face being peeled away to reveal another, equally realistic one -- has been ripped off everywhere from Mission: Impossible to Charlie's Angels. Not exactly Terminator 2 territory, but a measure of Darkman's niche appeal nonetheless.
by Brian J. Dillard review