Review by C.J. Bunce
Gotham City is swapped for Granite City in Sylvester Stallone’s latest action movie, this time back in the superhero genre with MGM and Universal Artists’ Prime Video original Samaritan. Stallone’s typical superhero stuff has been more sci-fi, like Demolition Man, Judge Dredd, and Guardians of the Galaxy 2, but this movie is as superhero genre as it gets, without being adapted from a comic. As a one-shot story in the realm of Unbreakable, The Crow, The Mask, The Shadow, Let Me In, Hancock, or even The Professional, Samaritan is the story of a world with only one superhero family. The twin sons of that family died in battle with each other years ago, but conspiracy theorists believe otherwise.
In backstory Samaritan, the good superhero brother of the duo, killed twin Nemesis, foiling a plot to wreak havoc on Granite City by taking away all its power (a plot we read a few years ago in the novel Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town). In the present a young boy named Sam, played by Javon Walton, reads and draws posters about the noble, heroic Samaritan from long ago. Sam follows a conspiracy talk show host played by Martin Starr (Spider-Man’s Mr. Harrington) and wants to believe his stories that Samaritan never died. Like the kids in The Black Phone, Sam is bullied, and local thugs are successful in pressuring him into the local gang, which is led by noted Nemesis mega-fan Cyrus, played by Pilou Asbæk (Overlord, The Great Wall, Ghost in the Shell).
The story is about the kid, in the same way as The Kid, Last Action Hero, and The Adam Project, and the kid’s relationship with a mysterious neighbor a la Let Me In. That neighbor here is a trash collector named Joe Smith, played by Stallone. Joe is past his prime, and generally checked-out from society like Denzel Washington’s equalizer Robert McCall. But when a scrawny henchman with a Napoleon complex starts in on Sam, Joe steps in (although some of the film’s best scenes have Sam fighting back). But is Joe really the hero Sam dreams about or just a good Samaritan?
As villains go, Cyrus is that familiar angry criminal in every other bat-story, here even sporting a mask similar to Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. He’s not that memorable, but it works well enough in this grimy, ugly, inner-city straight out of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (many elements, like the villain, feel a lot like The Crow).
As for the story, the secrets aren’t so secret. One subpar de-aging scene, that is fortunately brief, is probably forgivable. There’s not much by way of contributions from women here except for Sam’s mom, played by Dascha Polanco (Russian Doll), and one of the thugs. But the movie is a more interesting contribution to the superhero genre than some recent efforts, like The Boys or even Jupiter’s Legacy. Samaritan features an 1980s Arnold Schwarzenegger-type body count and vintage Chuck Norris/Blade quality, catchy quotable exit lines like “Have a blast” after shoving a bomb into a thug’s gut, visual effect fight scenes out of any video game adaptation or Fast & Furious entry, a cool super-powered prop hammer, and a sort of kryptonite and anti-kryptonite: one thing that could kill the brothers was over-heating, which meant a freezer full of ice cream when in trouble. That’s definitely the stuff of comic book superheroes. Note: If you’ve seen the Samaritan comics, those were actually adapted from this script, which has been sitting on a desk for years.
It’s always fun to talk Stallone. His movies always deliver as promised, whether the Rocky series, the Rambo series, or the Expendables series, or modern classics like Oscar, Cliffhanger, and Cop Land. Part of that original Planet Hollywood trio that also included stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, it’s Stallone that hasn’t stopped delivering quality, even in smaller films.
Beginning with The Expendables he began his older man era and solidified it by bringing his Rocky Balboa back for Creed. In Samaritan Stallone is sporting Sean Connery grey hair of The Hunt for Red October vintage. It suits him, and he shows no signs of stopping, which hopefully means more elder roles coming (hopefully more like Schwarzenegger’s than Clint Eastwood’s).
This is not Old Man Logan, but it doesn’t try to be. It’s definitely a movie for a double feature pairing with Bruce Willis’ dark superhero Unbreakable. Stallone would make a great Superman. A solid redemption story and a one-shot superhero story worth your time, catch Samaritan now streaming on Prime Video.