Review: Samaritan

Samaritan

Trailer

The ultimate supervillain: time.

Decades after the apparent death of superhero Samaritan in battle with his villainous brother Nemesis, Granite City struggles with a socio-economic crisis that has people ready to riot. 13-year-old Sam (Javan Walton), obsessed with Samaritan and rumours he might still be alive, comes to believe that garbageman Joe (Sylvester Stallone) is him after a short encounter with local hoodlums. With gang leader Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk) ready to take on the mantle of Nemesis and the city about to blow, Sam tries to bring Samaritan back to life.

I can take a stupid movie. I can take a smart movie. I can take a smart movie acting stupider than it is. But I cannot take a stupid movie acting smarter than it is. That’s what Samaritan is: a movie that just oozes with the feeling that it is re-inventing the wheel, taking the most bland genre going right now and turning it into creative gold. The reality is more like Samaritan has taken a well-worn idea (the director is on record as being especially inspired by the vastly superior Unbreakable, and it shows), dusted it off, and put Sylvester Stallone in it, and hoped the latter aspect would be enough to get us praising it.

We’ve been here before, with other streaming services. The idea of making a superhero movie at a fraction of the price of those that entitles like Marvel Studios put out, with the difference in spectacle made up by the apparent strength of the concept, is nothing new: I think of Code 8, and Project Power or Fast Color are just a few examples. But the key is the concept, and if that falls down the whole thing falls down. The concept of Samaritan, whose writers are obviously very familiar with the likes of The Dark Knight Returns and any number of Taken-esque “old man beats up young ruffians” films (We Hate Movies has the best description for these: “geezer-pleasers”), is nothing all that special, and is overly-reliant on the star power contained within the lead.

Watching Stallone act his way, just about, through a growing connection with the young boy across the street and, spoiler, back into the role of a superpowered hero, is honestly not all that interesting. It’s too predictable, and at times needlessly saccharine. Before you can say “single-parent-family” young Sam is using Joe as a surrogate father and before you can say “Isn’t this the sub-plot of Creed?” old Joe is finding reasons to be more than just a garbageman by the example of young Sam. It helps that there is a city in crisis, and a nefarious villain, along with his motely crew of henchmen, to punch around a bit. But it’s all been done before, and done better.

It’s actually with the villain, that Pilou Asbæk does his absolute best with, that Samaritan will garner any kind of genuine interest I feel. It’s through Asbæk’s Cyrus that the film presents the idea that Nemesis, the long-thought-dead supervillain to Samaritan’s superhero, was actually the protagonist of that battle, a Robin Hood-type who attempted to upset a tyrannical status quo in favour of the little guy, through any means necessary. If superhero films, especially the MCU variety, have a subtextual problem nowadays it is in their depiction of a world where deviations from the norm and attempts to upset the “system” are portrayed in very negative terms, and efforts to protect the same are heroic: only Black Panther perhaps has come close to a nuanced take on that very issue, with other films happy to portray causes you could link to things like resource control (Infinity War), uneven standards of justice (Multiverse Of Madness), and opposition to religious fundamentalism (Love And Thunder) as stuff only the bad guys are interested in. Samaritan, to its credit, attempts to play around with that idea, and in the end Stallone’s character doesn’t really do anything to try and stop the rioting that engulfs the city on the part of its underprivileged 99%: but Samaritan only goes so far with this actually fascinating premise. A proper superhero film capable of being pushed that would tackle it is long overdue.

Instead Samaritan resorts to type after toying with this idea. Stallone just isn’t into this script, and largely sleepwalks his way through it: he’s never been a brilliant actor, but you can always tell when he is engaged and when he is not. Walton is better, but he’s a young child actor getting to be in a superhero movie with Stallone: why wouldn’t he? A bland colour palette and expectational cinematography perhaps aids rather than detracts from the setting, that is meant to get across the blandness and dead end nature of American life at the lower end of the scale, but this is still, nominally, a superhero movie: it has to do more to catch the eye than the odd grenade going off.

Samaritan winds down into something that is a cross between Taken and John Wick, just without the required dynamism in presentation. One notable twist contained within the finale is something anyone with any experience in this genre will see coming a mile away, and lands like the figurative dead cat, too late in the picture to be anything other than a momentary jolt to a story in danger of flatlining. Samaritan leaves things open for further adventures with Stallone as this character, but I suspect this may well turn out to be a one-and-done. Samaritan isn’t stupid exactly, it must definitely is not smart. But it is a film that thinks it is smart, when it’s really something worse than stupid: exceptionally unexceptional. If Amazon Prime is placing its bets on features like this, it’s perhaps no wonder they have spent a lot more time and money on the TV shows. Not recommended.

(All images are copyright of Amazon Prime).

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