“Samaritan” stars Sylvester Stallone, Javon Walton, Martin Starr, Pilou Asbæk, Dascha Polanco, and Moisés Arias. Released on Prime Video on August 26, 2022, the film has a young teen encountering a retired superhero.
The film was directed by Julius Avery, who also directed "Son of a Gun" and "Overlord". It is based on the graphic novels by Bragi F. Schut, Marc Olivent, and Renzo Podesta. We've all grown pretty weary of superhero movies at some point. However, we keep going back to them because of the different representations of the genre, mainly the ones from streaming like "The Boys" and "Harley Quinn". While Marvel and DC do their own thing with their superhero projects fit for all ages, some filmmakers twist the genre in ways that make us rethink these powerful heroes. This movie is no exception, which saw action star Sylvester Stallone go from a famous boxer and vengeful veteran to a retired superhero. This was one of the movies that got delayed numerous times due to the COVID-19 pandemic and big competition at the box office. It was initially scheduled to be released in theaters in 2020 but was moved several times before it settled for the last weekend of summer vacation. However, the movie was released on Prime Video instead as part of Amazon Studio's purchase of the film's distributor, United Artists Releasing. Regardless of how it was released, I was intrigued to see the movie, mainly because of Stallone's involvement and Avery's previous project, "Overlord", which I enjoyed. Now that it's finally out for the public to see, was it super enough to stand alongside the endless list of superhero movies? Let's find out.
The story follows Sam Cleary (Walton), a young teenager attempting to help his mother (Polanco) with a financial crisis. He did so by joining a gang headed by Reza (Arias) and their leader, Cyrus (Asbæk). After getting into hot water with Reza's crew, Sam is saved by a garbage collector named Joe Smith (Stallone), who's surprisingly tougher than he looks regarding his strength. As a result, Sam suspects that Joe is none other than Samaritan, a superhero supposedly killed during an epic battle against his foe, Nemesis (also played by Stallone), who happens to be his twin brother. While trying to prove this theory, Sam and Joe discover that Cyrus is wreaking havoc across the city after finding Nemesis's hammer. This forces Joe to come out of retirement and save the day, whether he likes it or not.
Many superhero movies rely on big-budget set pieces and visual spectacles to get our hearts pumping and provide escapism from the real world. On the other hand, we also have films that explore a more down-to-earth corner of this fictional universe. "Samaritan" is one of those movies, with it being described as a "dark, new take" on the genre. While it's something that's been done before, I always welcome this approach because it allows filmmakers to be creative with the superhero tropes that have been popular for years. A plot about a retired superhero does have plenty of things to be intrigued about, but the execution plays a crucial role in making the movie a unique hero worth cheering.
One of the things to know about "Samaritan" is that it's more along the lines of a drama that could pass up as a gritty crime thriller instead of a big-budget blockbuster. There are plenty of dialogue-driven and thematic moments that out-rival the action scenes involving Stallone kicking the crap out of horrible people and teens. If you're into superhero movies with visual spectacle and crazy action that cost an arm and a leg, this film might not do you any favors. However, it might work wonders for those wanting something refreshing in the genre.
Part of that is due to the ambition in its themes and story. The movie represents some brief commentary on the financial mistreatment of the lower class and the viewpoints on justice. While Samaritan fights to protect people as any other superhero would, his twin brother Nemesis has his own ways of seeking justice, and that's by revenge. That's where the film's antagonist, Cyrus, comes into play, as he's inspired by Nemesis's beliefs to finish what he started. Then there's Joe, who struggles with the decision to return to the life he once knew following his superhero battle with his twin brother. It's a fundamental plot element that was done many times before, but it was briefly elevated by the third act's twist that completely changed my perspective on the character. It's a bold choice that reflects one of the film's inspiring messages. Unfortunately, despite its good ambition, "Samaritan" was sadly let down by its generic narrative and uneven pacing.
The film's screenplay was written by Bragi F. Schut, one of the writers responsible for the graphic novels it's based on. I found this to be an interesting choice since Schut seemed to understand the characters and the world-building in the books, meaning that the film could wind up being as invigorating as the source materials. Sadly, that's not the case. There was some potential in the script to be something special, but the lackluster characters and dialogue constantly overpower it, like how Joe handles the bad guys with his super strength.
There were a few moments that could've been handled better, including the flashbacks involving the battle between Samaritan and Nemesis, which might be due to the editing. It almost looked like the movie was filmed with an R-rating in mind, then cut some scenes down to reach a wider audience and make it under two hours long. As a result, the film looked a bit sloppy in handling the character exploration and action sequences. The action was enjoyable for the most part, but it didn't offer a compelling impact regarding the direction and editing.
Fortunately for me, the movie isn't without a couple of merits to go along with its bold choices. One of them is the cast, who did pretty well in their roles. Sylvester Stallone was unsurprisingly decent regarding his performance as Joe, showcasing more of his talent in the drama and action departments. Javon Walton, known for his roles in "Euphoria" and "The Umbrella Academy", continues to express his own talent in the movies with his portrayal of Sam, a teen who discovers Joe's superhero identity. I've only known Walton as the voice of Pugsley Addams from "The Addams Family 2", so this movie was my first experience seeing him act in a live-action project, let alone a superhero film. All I can say is that he did all right. It's nothing too remarkable, but he was fine enough for me to support him in his upcoming projects. Asbæk and Polanco also offered some fine performances as Cyrus and Tiffany Cleary, Sam's mother, respectively.
Another aspect I was okay with was the setting. Julius Avery was known for delivering the dark and gritty scenes in 2018's "Overlord", but not without a bloody sequence or two. "Samaritan" sees the director representing the same tone for the crime-filled Granite City full of homeless people and financial debt. If you think living in Gotham City was horrible, wait until you visit this place. While Avery's direction towards the action felt restrained, I will give props to the filmmaker for capturing the realism and gloominess of the film's superhero world.
Overall, "Samaritan" has potential in its ambitious story and themes, but the execution isn't super enough to capitalize on that promise. There were a couple of aspects that made it watchable for Stallone's followers and superhero fans, including the cast, production design, and the third act's twist. But it's constantly overpowered by its lackluster screenplay, average characters, and subpar editing. This is another film that could've been great regarding its ideas but instead wound up being a generic experience that struggles to perform these good deeds.