Darkman II: The Return of Durant brings back one of the villains of the first film, a man named Robert Durant (Larry Drake). He actually gets top billing in this picture, which tells you that Liam Neeson, after staring in Schindler’s List and winning his Oscar, declined involvement. The titular Darkman is now played by Arnold Vosloo, a man who looks and sounds little like Neeson. It doesn’t really matter, as Darkman is a character who has been burned to the point of not being recognizable.
He is able to go outside without being recognized by creating synthetic skin masks, able to emulate anyone. The only problem is that the reaction to create them is unstable, lasting only 99 minutes after exposure to light. After that, they begin to disintegrate, ruining the disguise. He’s more of a detective than superhero, although he also has the obligatory super strength, and thanks to a procedure he underwent right after suffering the burns, he can’t feel pain. That’s treated as invulnerability, just in case you were wondering.
Somehow, some way, Durant managed to survive a crash that pitched a helicopter against the side of a wall, resulting in the copter exploding and crashing to the earth in a glorious fire. The characters at the time didn’t even consider the possibility that he’d be alive. 800 and some odd number of days later, and he has awakened from his coma relatively unharmed. He has a limp, but doesn’t a cane make for a more threatening villain? It certainly provides an additional weapon, especially when you realize that the limp won’t be a hindrance in the action scenes.
So, now that Durant is back, and developing some new type of weaponry — laser-shooting assault rifles with a range of three (three!) kilometers — it’s up to Darkman to stop him. I don’t know what our hero has been doing for the past couple of years, but apparently it hasn’t been too interesting. He still hasn’t come close to stabilizing his synthetic skin, and he’s the same person who finished the last movie, save for the change in voice and chosen appearance (the default skin he picks looks like Arnold Vosloo, not Liam Neeson, surprising absolutely nobody).
I’m not going to argue that the first Darkman was some sort of masterpiece; it wasn’t all that entertaining, and it didn’t do anything special with the lead character. But it did have its fun moments, and it had a certain charm about it, in large part because it was written and directed by Sam Raimi. This one doesn’t have that type of talent behind the camera, and it loses something as a result.
This time around, the director is Bradford May, a busy man but not someone who directs for the big screen. True enough, Darkman II has gone direct to video, and it loses some of the flourish of its big screen counterpart. It’s not as cheesy, sure, which is probably a good thing, but it’s also not as funny, or as stylishly made, or as fun. Darkman wasn’t too fun, but it had a couple of scenes of genuine brilliance. This one is just flat, dull, and boring, doing even less with Darkman than its predecessor did.
I suppose the whole point of the character is that his past should be of no consequence, as he can become anyone he wants to at any time. But with the time limit forced upon him by his unstable reaction, you’d think that there would be some sort of suspense regarding whether or not he’ll be able to complete his tasks in time. But for the most part, that doesn’t come up. And when it does, there’s no tension, no thrills, and no problem caused that can’t easily be solved.
I felt as if there was even less action in Darkman II than in the first one. Maybe this wasn’t the case, but it certainly felt that way. Darkman wasn’t the most action-packed of superhero films — that was one of its main problems — but it had at least one really memorable scene. This one has none. There isn’t a single moment in Darkman II that I can point to and say “this is why it’s worth watching.” In fact, I can’t even remember a single action sequence. It’s just boring and lifeless.
Let’s get this out of the way: Arnold Vosloo is no Liam Neeson. It wouldn’t have gone direct-to-video if Neeson was starring. With that said, Vosloo does a competent job in the title role. He doesn’t have the same charisma or screen presence, but since you don’t see his face for much of the time, all he really has to do is be fine. And he is fine. Larry Drake looked like he was having a lot less fun this time around and, despite being billed first, doesn’t get as much screen time as Vosloo. It is about Darkman, after all, so this makes sense, but is Larry Drake really the name on which to market your film?
Darkman II: The Return of Durant is a far less enjoyable film than its predecessor, which itself wasn’t a terribly fun watch. This one is far more dull, far less action-packed, and doesn’t have the same charm that Darkman had. It doesn’t have a single defining moment, and the actors were noticeably worse — even though the villain, Larry Drake, returned. Unless you were a huge Darkman fan, you have no reason to watch this sequel.