Pink Elephants And Machine Gun Legs: Looking Back At The Early Superhero Film Through Sam Raimi’s Darkman

The biggest difference between Darkman and a modern superhero film; Iron Man, for instance, is that the hero’s motivation is solely personal. Where Tony Stark sets out to annihilate the assorted groups in possession of his weapons to atone for the damage he has done as their designer and prevent any further destruction, Peyton Westlake’s only goal is to make Larry Drake’s Durant and his men suffer.

In one memorable instance, he forces a goon’s head up a manhole and into traffic, where the unfortunate goon is promptly squished. “I’ve told you everything!” the goon begs, “I know,” Westlake growls “but let’s pretend you didn’t.” It is satisfying to see the goon get squished, but more for the fact that someone who wronged the sympathetic Westlake is getting their just desserts than the fact that a ruthless criminal will never hurt anyone else again.

Furthermore, Westlake and his contemporaries, Tim Burton’s Batman and several others, tend to respond to every combat situation with lethal force. Part of this is due to the focus being more on one or two central characters than on an ensemble and the world around them. The bit players may be disposed of as they cease to be of use to the narrative, and part of this is due to a trend of non-Superman superheroes being portrayed as fundamentally unhinged.

Even before he decides that “Peyton is dead,” anger is so central to Westlake’s character that he actually draws his strength from it. His goal in Darkman’s final battle is not so much to rescue his girlfriend from the villains as it is to kill all of the villains and rescue his girlfriend by doing so. Burton’s Batman fights the Joker because the Joker killed his parents and wants to woo the woman he is attracted to; saving Gotham is part of the plan, but never as much a priority as fighting the Joker.

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