Review: Though Slightly Underdeveloped, Samaritan Sees Stallone Get Back Into Action

Putting a somewhat fresh spin on the superhero movie, director Julius Avery (Overlord) delivers Samaritan, the story of young Sam Cleary (real-life kid boxer Javon “Wanna” Walton) who grows up idolizing a supposedly long-dead superhero named Samaritan, who fought crime in the fictional metropolis of Granite City. Quite often that crime was the result of Samaritan’s twin brother, a villain named Nemesis. Both brothers were said to have died in a fiery warehouse battle 20 years earlier, and ever since, crime has slowly gotten worse in the city. Sam is obsessed with Samaritan, so much so that he’s convinced that pretty much any old man he sees that displays an iota of strength is the long-lost, super-powered, vigilante hero. He’s even shared his theories with a noted expert on the Samartian/Nemesis relationship, Albert Casler (Martin Starr), who usually just dismissed his suspicions.

But one day after being tormented by underlings of crime lord Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk, Game of Thrones), Joe (Sylvester Stallone), a neighbor in Sam’s apartment building, swats away a handful of bullies with barely a thought. Sam becomes convinced this garbage man is actually Samaritan in disguise and he confronts the man about it; naturally, Joe denies it. But eventually things in the city escalate, especially when it’s revealed that Cyrus is a devotee of Nemesis’ ideas about using anarchy and chaos as a means of cleansing the putrid city. At first, Joe doesn’t seem interested in helping out, but eventually his admiration for Sam and his memories of who he used to be pull Joe back into the spotlight, and he begins to step up and start saving people from bombs planted around Granite City.

Written by Bragi F. Schut, Samaritan digs a little bit into Sam’s backstory, involving his overworked, slightly neglectful mother (Dascha Polanco), and also features a few somewhat interesting supporting bad guy players in Moises Arias’ Reza and especially Sophia Tatum as the ruthless Sil. But it’s Stallone’s Joe who has to carry the action sequences, which are actually pretty solid, save for a few janky special effects. The final showdown between Joe and Cyrus is set in yet another warehouse fire (I’m sure it’s coincidental), and the flames look like they were drawn in with crayon at times.

I’ll also mention, there’s a third-act twist that I predicted in roughly the first five minutes of the movie, and while it doesn’t ruin the movie in any way, it does give you an idea of just how predictable most of the plot of Samaritan is; it’s considerable. Still, if you have any affection for Stallone as a hero throughout so many decades, it’s great seeing him jump back into the game once more. Is the fact that the story is about a man reluctant to return to what he once was a coincidence? I’m guessing it isn’t (yes, even the metaphors here are obvious). But I liked the mentor/mentee relationship between Stallone and Walton, especially when he’s teaching the kid to fight and defend himself. 

I wish the movie had dug a little deeper into the original relationship between the super-powered brothers, because some of their theories on good and evil seemed pretty twisted and promising in terms of character building, but they’re left mostly unfulfilled. A mild recommendation, but for those who feel they’re suffering from superhero-movie burnout, it does have a unique and decidedly darker tone.

The film will stream on Prime Video beginning August 26.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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