‘Samaritan’ Review: Stallone Tries to Boost Generic Superhero Film
By Daniel Rester
Samaritan is an original superhero film not based on any previous DC, Marvel, or other company property. During a time full of blockbuster-sized superhero films with familiar characters, it’s nice to see a superhero film come along that could bring something new and fresh to the table while also being small in scale. While Samaritan does have an interesting premise and a well-cast Sylvester Stallone, it unfortunately doesn’t live up to its potential as it takes obvious and cliched routes.
Written by Bragi F. Schut and directed by Julius Avery, Samaritan tells the story of a boy named Sam Cleary (Javon Walton) who is obsessed with the title character. Samaritan and Nemesis (both a de-aged Stallone), as Sam tells it through narration in a cool graphic novel-like opening, were twin brothers with immense powers who died twenty years ago. While Samaritan was viewed as a hero, Nemesis was more of a villain.
Sam lives with his mom in the same grungy place Samaritan and Nemesis died at before, Granite City. He and some others believe Samaritan could still be alive. After Sam is rescued from some gang members by an old neighbor named Joe (Stallone now), he thinks maybe Joe could be the hero because he bent a knife blade after grabbing it. The leader of the gang members, Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), becomes interested in Joe while also seeking a weapon used previously by Nemesis.
Schut sets up an intriguing brotherly backstory for Samaritan and Nemesis only for it to not be explored very much in depth. The idea of some people loving Samaritan and others loving Nemesis in Granite City could also have been fascinating if developed more. Instead it is mostly relegated to news clips on televisions and used as an excuse for the bad guys to be able to recruit other Nemesis-worshiping henchmen. Cyrus’ plan with them is murky at best.
Joe/Samaritan feels sidelined in his own story for much of the first act, instead focusing on Sam. This would be fine if Sam was more engaging, but his hero obsessions and theft attempts feel like tired tropes. The third act, meanwhile, has a reveal that is seen coming from a mile away. It either should have been revealed earlier, and therefore developed more, or presented with an ambiguous touch. Instead it comes across as a twist that is supposed to be game-changing but is actually just boring and obvious.
Avery, a capable director who made the entertaining WWII horror flick Overlord (2018), does what he can to try to make the hackneyed writing workable. Though most of the film looks drab (gray skies and city walls with graffiti), the director at least makes the action smooth and favors wide shots. He can’t quite decide if he wants to guide the material as a gritty or cheesy action drama though, so he goes with some of each. This makes the film tonally strange at times, but also gives it a ‘90s-like charm at other times (if the video quality were not as high-def, you could have told me this was made in 1996).
The climax is especially exciting as Avery lets Joe battle an army of thugs. It breathes some life into the movie and makes you wish the rest of the film had more of that spark. Stallone shows in the climax that he is still fun to watch in fighting scenarios, and he does a fine job with the earlier character moments too.
Samaritan is watchable and even pretty enjoyable at times. It’s certainly boosted by the efforts of Avery and Stallone. Unfortunately they can only do so much against the many generic writing choices. It’s too bad because Samaritan‘s premise had some promise in this age of superhero films.
Available on Amazon Prime Video now.
My Grade: 5.5/10 (letter grade equivalent: C+)
Running Time: 1h 42min