Director: Julius Avery
Writer: Bragi F. Schut
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Javon 'Wanna' Walton, Pilou Asbaek
It’s hard to review Samaritan (2022) cordially. Let’s be clear: a Sylvester Stallone superhero vehicle should be a landmark event, given the popularity the genre enjoys today. However, Samaritan is anything but. It is a broken promise. We were promised Stallone’s Logan (2017), but what we received instead was something that ranks lower than Judge Dredd (1995) in Stallone’s body of work. Half-baked, with a plot that tries to be everything and anything all at once, Samaritan is a sheer disservice to Stallone’s legacy – if not the superhero genre as a whole. At a time when superhero fatigue seems to be setting in, thanks to the Marvel cinematic universe and other comic book adaptations, Samaritan sets a dangerous precedent for the naysayers.
Yet on paper, the overall premise of Samaritan holds great promise. Stallone is Samaritan/Joe, who the public believes was killed during a showdown with his (seemingly) evil twin brother, Nemesis. However, there are those who believe he is alive. Sam Cleary (Javon Walton) is one of them. A young, starry-eyed superhero nerd and Samaritan groupie, Sam lives with his mother who is trying hard to make ends meet and give her child a good upbringing. In need of some quick money, Sam falls in with the wrong crowd, which leads him to Cyrus (Pilou Asbaek) a gangster who also happens to be a Nemesis groupie. Cyrus takes a liking to Sam and gets his hands on Nemesis’s famed hammer, which supposedly killed Samaritan. Cyrus wants to be a super villain and start a revolution (eye-roll). Meanwhile, Sam starts to suspect that his old, secretive, antique-fixing neighbour Joe is actually Samaritan.
Directed by Julius Avery, Samaritan starts strong enough and the art-led opening title and exposition are serviceable for a comic book movie opener. But its identity crisis is evident within the first 10 minutes. Samaritan can’t decide what kind of movie it is. Is it a subversive take on the superhero genre? Is it a meditation on the third act of a hero’s journey/arc? Is it a take on Karate Kid? Is it a buddy movie? Did Avery watch The Dark Knight Rises (2012) too many times? I don’t have answers as a reviewer – and from the look of Samaritan, neither does the film’s creative and production team.
The one thing that remains constant and watchable across the movie is Stallone’s performance. His action pedigree and acting chops hold your attention. He is funny when he needs to be, jaded when required, and happy to bring the house down and punch people into walls if that’s what’s needed of him. Stallone delivers the action in a lumbering yet brutal manner – and you believe him! That is perhaps how an ageing superhero would fight — with the grace and fury of a trampling elephant. That said, everything around him in the movie falls apart so quickly, you hope against hope that Samaritan is Stallone’s ‘Hail Mary’ audition to get the role of ‘Old Superman’ perhaps.
On a separate note, Samaritan’s de-aging via computer-generated imagery is worth its own article. The film crosses the line between being a genuine superhero movie and a genre parody so often that I remain confused of its true identity.
Aside from Stallone, everything about Samaritan is laughably bad, from the acting, editing and even the screenplay. The villainous supporting cast looks like they were picked right out of the amateur cosplay line-up at the nearest Comic Con. Pilou’s Cyrus hangs around, standing and executing heists like a low-budget Bane (Tom Hardy in this role gave everyone chills in The Dark Knight Rises). Cyrus gets on a car with a hammer and shouts on the streets, demanding a revolution, and a confused sea of normal people inexplicably join him. It makes no sense, especially since Cyrus’s call is hardly compelling. And somehow, inexplicably, he is strong enough to take on a legendary superhero despite being a mere mortal. If you’re paying attention, which is a tall order, you can see the final plot twist coming miles away.
Had Samaritan been sure of what it is or what it wants to be, it could have been a great small-scale superhero movie, or a streaming show, with Stallone’s clout to boot. Unfortunately, all Samaritan boils down to is a colossal waste of Stallone’s skills, and your time.
Samaritan is available to stream on Prime Video.