Credit where credit is due, the Sylvester Stallone-led superhero film, “Samaritan,” is a breath of fresh air for the genre, even if that’s due to the fact that it’s simply not a Marvel or DC film. But for as interesting as the film can be, the film is ultimately too meandering to lead to anything substantial or interesting, to be frank.
Sam (Javon Walton) is a young boy living under challenging circumstances. His single mother (Dascha Polanco) is doing her best but they still are not immune to having an eviction notice stamped on their door when the rent is a few days late. This leads Sam to take a friend (Abraham Clinkscales) up on an offer to make money by mining wires and metal out of old walls. But this entangles Sam into a world of crime and introduces him to the ringleader of this group, Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), a man determined to rise and challenge Samaritan. Meanwhile, Joe (Sylvester Stallone) is your “average joe” (I’ll see myself out); a garbage collector who spends his shifts dumpster diving and catches the attention of Sam, who believes he may be the vaunted superhero Samaritan.
There is a bit of a prologue that explains the lore and history of Samaritan and the most creatively-titled supervillain, Nemesis, but this felt crammed in because of one of two options: EIther they didn’t have the time or budget to actually film these scenes or because they didn’t want to overexpose Stallone’s 76-year-old body (more on this later). Either way, you’ll gain enough of what you need to know including why Samaritan is powerful, why he disappeared and why he has a magical hammer — sorry, sledgehammer). But these events aren’t more than an urban legend within the context of the film, and they left more to be desired. Even if the visuals have that “chessboard,” video game-like quality (not a knock on the CGI, per se), they were far more interesting than some of the other visuals in the film; particularly in the third act.
Who doesn’t love the national treasure who brought to life some iconic characters like Rocky Balboa and John Rambo, Sylvester Stallone? The man is a legend and his iconic deep timbre makes any character more interesting. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in recent Liam Neeson action films, Father Time is undefeated, and there are physical limitations with these actors. He looks pretty great whenever de-aged, but you can’t de-age physical movements. It’s all made worse when Martin Starr’s character, a Samaritan-obsessed journalist, tells Sam to stop bugging him about a Samaritan sighting any time he sees “an old man make a sudden move.” That statement right there takes any character played by 76-year-old Stallone out of the running. Perhaps it’s a pride thing like an old singer refusing to change the keys to the songs he wrote 50 years prior, but even the “bumps” (as wrestling fans call them) that Stallone takes in the film all look wonky. And do I blame the 76-year-old man for not wanting to fall over? Not at all. But perhaps a body double could have taken these falls. In fact, the only time a fall looked convincing was when Stallone’s face hit the ground; this may not have even been intentional.
But it’s not Stallone that is weighing down “Samaritan”. — not even close. It’s the juxtaposed ideas that the film has that result in neither being explored to its potential. On one end of the spectrum, you have Sam’s coming-of-age story as he navigates the crime world and stands up to bullies all while Joe takes him under his wing. The other end of the spectrum is honed in on the crime world of this city. It’s very Gotham-like in a lot of ways, and the anarchy caused by someone taking the Nemesis mantle was an interesting idea. It’s just too bad that the film spends far too long on one idea before flipping back. The film never finds a rhythm.
And the film actually starts pretty well; the plot may be cliched but at least it felt like it had a direction. By the time the third act comes along, it felt as if the film just remembered that it was building to a third act crescendo and everything just gets thrown together. Even some of the gang members run into Joe in the same way the crosswalk scene in “Pulp Fiction” plays out.
Again, credit to “Samaritan” for being an original comic book property. This film is apparently based on a comic series that no one has ever heard of, but it’s far more successful than, say, “Bloodshot” because it has its own distinct look, at least for the first two acts. The third act becomes a fiery mess that’s very unappealing to look at while the first two acts feature the unique grimy city that felt like Gotham-meets-Seattle. But like everything nowadays, “Samaritan” is unable to fully avoid the mainstream comic book movie tropes. There is the aforementioned magical sledgehammer (I’m calling it a hammer for the sake of this comparison), the Gotham-like anarchy and even an ode to the elevator scene in “The Winter Soldier.”
While a misfire, it’s still an admirable swing by “Samaritan.” And in a world that’s almost exclusively made up of Marvel and DC movies, there needs to be trial and error if there’s ever going to be any sort of shakeup on the CBM scene. And even if “Samaritan” isn’t the heavyweight that Rocky Balboa is, it’s got some good ideas (not the third act twist) that were just taken out of the oven a little too early. And you have some interesting motifs about doing the right thing; Sam’s mom warns him “The decisions you make add up,” but I think another way of getting the same lesson is from the song “Ebony and Ivory” that says, “There is good and bad, in everyone.”
“Samaritan” will be available to stream on August 26 on Prime Video.