Samaritan attempts a unique take on the superhero genre by crossing it with urban crime drama, coming of age tale family melodrama and grumpy old man antics. The tonal mash of gangbaners and super heroics feels overtly grimdark. Also, the movie features a twist that is supposed to be mind-blowing but it’s pretty easy to spot. That isn’t entirely a bad thing as sometimes it is fun to figure out a twist before it happens. Some moments pop and there is a lot of enjoyment seeing Sylvester Stallone as a ticked off old guy who just happens to have super-powers.
Sam (Javon 'Wanna' Walton) is a kid living with his mother, Tiffany (Dascha Polanco), and he is obsessed with the story of the missing superhero and supervillain twin brothers, Samaritan and Nemesis. Decades ago both went missing after a final battle and are presumed dead. Falling in with a bunch of street toughs led by the crazy Cyrus (Pilou Asbaek), Sam gets into trouble when one of the goons, Reza (Moises Arias), wants Sam dead for making Reza look bad in front of the boss. Saving Sam’s life is the big old guy, Joe (Stallone), throwing goons across the parking lot, catching a knife in his bare hands and not being injured. Sam immediately thinks Joe is the missing hero Samaritan although Joe tells him to buzz off. But Joe’s ability to heal and sustain damage proves he is superhuman, which Joe will need when Cyrus finds the mask of the vanquished villain Nemesis and tries to destroy the city.
With Stallone as the salty old guy who has a special history but doesn’t want anything to do with the upstart street kid it can’t help but make the movie feel like Creed with super-powers. Although Samaritan isn’t nearly as much fun as that description would imply. Stallone is definitely the highlight, as he’s incredibly surly while hiding his super-powered secret. When he’s run over by a car his body mends itself and it looks incredibly painful. When Sam asks him if he’s alright he gives a very honest, “%$$# no!” His super-powered drawback is if he goes too hot his heart may explode so he must be cooled down by water. It sort of implies he’s a walking nuclear reactor which is appropriately dangerous for a superhero. It’s cool when Joe goes full super-powered wrecker like when he single-handedly takes on an entire warehouse of goons. Stallone has been single-handedly taking out squads of goons for decades but at least this time his character has a super-powered excuse.
Even though Stallone is the big star, the movie is shown from the perspective of Sam, which is sort of a mixed bag. That means there’s a lot his mother lamenting about not being able to have enough money for rent as Polanco makes her mom appropriately exhausted. The film doesn’t exactly shy away from its superhero vibe, as it opens with a very cool somewhat graphic-novel looking credit sequence showing Samaritan and Nemesis’ origin story and final battle. It is painted like a comic book with lots of splashes of ink and colour, although that may have just been a way to cover up the lower budget which isn’t anywhere near standard superhero spectacle. But overall aside from some super-powered moments here and there, it feels more like a crime drama about this kid from the mean streets learning to be a good person from the crusty old guy who eventually starts to care.
Walton as Sam basically gets to be the kid who says lots of “Wow” and “Cool” while Joe reacts to him surly. Whole stretches of the film are based around him following Joe around. He goes to a journalist for a helpful backstory fill in session and the journalist is played by Martin Starr who makes even a dull expository role a bit livelier. Framing an action movie around a young protagonist doesn’t automatically sink it but Sam isn’t exactly the most interesting character. Also, he seems too smart to be hanging around street toughs. Walton conveys that Sam is a huge fanboy for Samaritan which is kind of endearing. Sam is also tormented by one of the goons played by Arias who comes off as quite scummy.
Asbaek as the main villain Cyrus does intimidating and crazy decently. There’s one moment when Cyrus talks wistfully about the mass murdering villain Nemesis like some sort of folk hero. When Cyrus finds Nemesis’ old mask, he puts it on and makes a speech about taking back the power from the corrupt which feels like Bane from Dark Knight Rises. The finale smash between Cyrus and Joe seems like it could be rather one-sided as Joe is so powerful he can crash through anything. But then the problem of Joe overheating comes up so he becomes weak so Cyrus can bash away at him. Kind of cheating but it works.
Samaritan may think it’s reinventing the superhero genre by mashing it with crime drama but the result isn’t quite as sophisticated. And the ending twist doesn’t land as mind-blowing revelation but more of confirmation of what is in the film. But if one just wants to see a super-powered Stallone punch people it delivers, eventually.
Director: Julius Avery
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Javon Walton, Pilou Asbæk, Dascha Polanco and Moises Arias