Sunday, 27 November 2016

Darkman II: The Return of Durant (1995)

The comicbook character that was never actually a comicbook returns in this straight to video/made for TV-esque romp. Originally created by Sam Raimi but serving as executive producer on this sequel, his influence is still a strong presence. The film starts out in much the same way as the original with the same styled title/credit sequence along with a brief recap of the events that took place in the first movie. This is basically a highlight reel of the first film but with new scenes shot with Arnold Vosloo that replicate original scenes with previous lead man Liam Neeson. Overall this opening doesn't really help the movie as it does look very 'made for TV-esque'.

So despite the cheap looking start the movie does actually get into gear pretty fast getting back to Raimi roots. Director Bradford May actually does a sterling job in recapturing that Raimi style that we all know and love from the original and the Evil Dead franchise. You all know what I mean, that kind of cheap looking, tacky, sleazy visual flare with very simplistic yet effective special effects. Its hard to describe but Raimi has the knack of making genuinely authentic looking shabby comicbook flicks. This movie also feels very similar in tone to 'Robocop 2' I think, with the over the top, anarchic violence and gallows humour. The beginning of the movie also seems structured in a similar way, showcasing a short action sequence with some faceless criminals who aren't part of the main plot. Its literally just a quick set up to show that Westlake is now a Batman-esque vigilante stopping crime.

In said sequence Westlake/Darkman confronts a fleeing criminal. When the crook fires his gun at Westlake he calmly holds up a manhole cover to protect himself. But surely the randomly fired bullets could of gone anywhere and the crook could easily of shot him elsewhere after he lowers the cover. Typical early 90's superhero silliness really. The crook then blurts out 'what are you?!', Westlake/Darkman replies coolly, 'I'm just a concerned citizen', before taking the perp down. A perfect Batman 89 rip-off moment and a perfect piece of cheese no doubt. What's kinda amusing though is essentially Darkman is just some bloke in bandages (wouldn't a balaclava be easier?), wearing a black trench coat and a black fedora, yet the crook acts as if he's some kind of mythical superhero.

So now Westlake is living under the city in some abandoned railway line or subway or something, he even has his own railway/subway train thing that he flies around beneath the city with. Of course there is absolutely no explanation as to how he manages all this without getting discovered or how he even got down there and set it all up so don't question it. He funds all this by stopping criminals who just happen to have stolen large sums of cash, so he pinches the loot off them to use for himself. So essentially he's also stealing money or using stolen money on himself which is still kinda wrong...right? Anywho Westlake is still trying to create a synthetic skin that won't disintegrate which is the entire basis of this sequel. Once again Robert Durant (who somehow survived from the first movie with no explanation) is the thorn in his side. Long story short, Durant needs a large building to start up a weapons factory to become powerful once again. The building is already owned by a scientist (who is also working on synthetic skin) and his sister who won't sell up. Westlake teams up with said scientist because his research is getting good results. Durant kills said scientist so he can put pressure on the sister to sell the building. Westlake tries to defend the sister and stop Durant.

Its a pretty predictable pattern for this movie in all honesty, they haven't really stayed too far from the original premise. Bringing back Durant seems like a big stretch seeing as he was basically killed in the first movie, but I guess Larry Drake was such a good baddie they needed him back at all costs. Durant's small crew of henchmen are a wondrous example of classic 90's stereotypical cliches. All white males that look and dress like greasy yuppies straight off the set of 'Wall Street'. In fact none of them are in the least bit threatening at all, they are clearly more for comedic relief and buffoonish if anything. Arnold Vosloo steps in for Liam Neeson and does a surprisingly good job! I really expected the acting to be dire and with little heart and soul but Vosloo does fit the bill nicely. Naturally you shouldn't expect anything epic as this feature is a pure slice of trashy comicbook hokem which I'm sure the actors were well aware of, but it all works nicely.

The makeup for Westlake is once again very good but not quite as good as the original movie. The detail is there but Westlake's face isn't quite as moist and raw looking, it looks a bit more rubbery this time around, but still decent. Action is satisfactory, nothing to shout about, nothing overly grandiose, mainly fisticuffs. Like the first movie its limited by budget and does look a tad cheap at times, but it all adds to the charm of the franchise really. Its fun watching Westlake utilise his synthetic skin to become a double of the various baddies (although this happens in the first movie also), its quirky, stupid, slapstick-esque fun for sure. But ultimately it makes no sense in the finale as he's swapping masks willy-nilly, I thought it was a time consuming process to put these masks on?

With its tongue firmly planted within its cheek, this movie certainly achieves what it set out to do, and that was to try and stand side by side with the original. Yes this movie isn't great by any means, but it is just about on par with the first in my humble opinion. The visuals, the gritty seedy trashy atmosphere, all the usual comicbook tropes such as struggling with inner rage, an underground lair, hero shots, shadows etc...Its all here and it all looks like a solid continuation from the first flick, which again is kinda surprising. Yes you could say Darkman II is basically repeating itself by having Westlake kill Durant and his henchmen all over again, and you'd be right. But at the end of the day if you liked the first then I'm sure this will suffice.