Samaritan Review

Plot: Thirteen-year-old Sam Cleary suspects that his mysterious and reclusive neighbor Mr. Smith is actually a legend hiding in plain sight. Twenty-five years ago, Granite City’s super-powered vigilante, Samaritan, was reported dead after a fiery warehouse battle with his rival, Nemesis. Most believe Samaritan perished in the fire, but some in the city, like Sam, have hope that he is still alive. With crime on the rise and the city on the brink of chaos, Sam makes it his mission to coax his neighbor out of hiding to save the city from ruin.

Review: Speaking on behalf of JoBlo.com, I can say without a doubt that we all love Sylvester Stallone (we even have a show – Sylvester Stallone Revisited – dedicated to him). Personally, I have a soft spot for Stallone’s 1990s films which featured him playing the closest thing to a superhero before the days of Marvel Studios and the DCEU. From Demolition Man to Judge Dredd, Stallone defined big screen action alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis without spandex or superpowers. Now, for the first time in his career, Stallone is headlining a true superhero movie that harkens back to the type of movie he made at the peak of his career. Even at age 76, Stallone brings his A-game to Samaritan, a comic book-inspired action flick that captures the essence of what helped make Sly a household name. While the movie may not showcase a scale we have come to expect from superhero movies these days, Samaritan has a few tricks up its sleeve that helps make it a welcome addition to the genre and Stallone’s legacy.

You should put all expectations for Samaritan aside. If you are thinking this movie is going to be on the level of any superhero movie released since Iron Man, you are going to be disappointed. Rather than imitate the ambitious, CGI-heavy films from Marvel or DC, Samaritan is a smaller, more concentrated superhero movie that feels closer to movies like Blade, The Crow, or even Stallone’s own Demolition Man. Set in fictional Granite City, Samaritan opens with a quick synopsis of the feud between the title hero and his arch-rival, Nemesis. In the intervening years, crime has rebounded in the absence of Samaritan and has left die-hard fans like young Sam (Javon “Wanna” Walton) and conspiracy theorists like Arthur (Martin Starr) searching for the fallen hero. Sam begins to think a garbage man named Joe Smith (Stallone) may be Samaritan, but he struggles to prove it. When Sam falls in with a criminal named Cyrus (Pilou Asbaek), Joe reveals his abilities to save Sam which sets the two on a direct path opposite Cyrus and his goons.

From the very start of the movie, Samaritan is very much Javon Walton’s movie. The young star of Euphoria takes center stage from the opening voice-over through the entirety of the film. Much like Austin O’Brien in Last Action Hero, Walton’s obsession with his idol drives this story while showing his home life with his mother, Isabelle (Dascha Polanco). Stallone plays Joe Smith as an older, broken-down man who reflects on his superhero legacy with a mix of fondness and regrets over how it came to an end. The final showdown between Samaritan and Nemesis weighs heavily on Joe and Stallone brings weariness to his performance that is refreshingly sincere. Like his final turns as Rocky Balboa in the Creed movies, Stallone embraces the fact that he is in his seventies and brings that to his performance. It also helps that Stallone is surrounded by a cast of younger actors who all complement his approach and help make this movie feel far more emotionally grounded than you would expect from a superhero movie.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Z2aQGwq0-M&ab_channel=JoBloMovieClips

Samaritan also benefits from a solid antagonist in Cyrus. Rather than making this movie about a character with enhanced abilities facing off with an enemy with equal powers, Pilou Asbaek channels a fierce energy that makes Cyrus a capable human foe who more than holds his own opposite Sylvester Stallone. Asbaek, best known to audiences as Euron Greyjoy on Game of Thrones, joins the annals of Stallone movie villains like Wesley Snipes and Rutger Hauer. Asbaek plays Cyrus as a mid-level criminal who rises to take on the city in the name of his hero, Nemesis. It is a more believable angle than many superhero movie villains and one that I initially felt would not work. But, thanks to Asbaek’s ability to balance humor and menace, it works well. Samaritan also has solid performances from Sophia Tatum as Sil, Moises Arias as Reza, and Jared Odrick as Farshad who round out Cyrus’ crew.

Bragi F. Schut’s screenplay, based on a spec script he wrote with Marc Olivent and Renzo Podesta and the inspiration for a 2014 comic book of the same name, delves into the origin of Samaritan and Nemesis while remaining vague on their abilities. By keeping the few scenes with the costumed characters in flashbacks, this doesn’t really feel very much like a superhero movie a lot of the time. That feels like an intentional decision by director Julius Avery who keeps a lot of the action gritty and hand-to-hand rather than showcasing big sweeping CGI set-pieces. The effects are primarily of a practical nature and that sometimes makes the scope of Samaritan look underwhelming compared to films like Doctor Strange or even series like Moon Knight. The scenes involving Stallone being de-aged are the weakest I have seen and may end up making a lot of audiences groan with disappointment.

What I did find surprising about Samaritan was the final act of the film, which is at once very fun to watch and predictably unpredictable. Many of the beats of this story are familiar and you will likely see them coming. The story teases out a reveal that some will be pleasantly surprised by while others likely will feel frustrated. I found myself liking Samaritan more and more as the story continued despite a lot of the first half of the film feeling generic and lacking anything we have not already seen before many times. What ultimately helped me appreciate this movie is Sylvester Stallone’s willingness to play a superhero without relying on the conventions of an expected origin story or firmly entrenched mythology that so many Marvel and DC projects are saddled with. Julius Avery’s direction is solid but doesn’t really offer anything astounding to distinguish it from any other superhero movie while the score by Jed Kurzel and Kevin Kilner is far better than I expected it to be.

Samaritan is a good action movie but a mediocre superhero tale. A different kind of origin story, this movie is a nice late-career performance from Sylvester Stallone that proves how much potential he had to lead a comic book franchise had this project come about twenty years ago. Samaritan serves as a nice cap to Stallone’s loose superhero trilogy alongside Demolition Man and Judge Dredd. Prime Video is a good outlet for this since it is not epic enough to warrant a big screen push. I enjoyed my trip to Granite City and would not be opposed to exploring further adventures in this world, especially if Stallone were willing to become Samaritan one more time.

Samaritan

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Alex Maidy has been a JoBlo.com editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been JoBlo.com's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.