This review originally appeared in the North Texas e-News.
If you had a dollar for every so-called new take on the superhero genre in the media today, you could probably fund your own episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. It ironically takes a lot to stand out in this new genre of superhero films, even if their goal is specifically to stand out.
Samaritan has the premise of a movie poised for success in that respect. While moviegoers have seen the gritty, grimey take on superheroes many times before, not many actors could possibly be better positioned to play a street level hero than Sylvester Stallone. By putting him in what’s set up as almost a Rocky Balboa style comeback story, the stage should be set for a heartfelt and grounded movie that imbues a real sense of emotional heft to a genre that’s used to building stakes through galactic warfare and larger-than-life smackdowns.
Unfortunately, while there are glimmers of that movie somewhere embedded in Samaritan, the diamond largely stays in the rough. A series of missed opportunities, poor framing and lackluster world-building keep Samaritan from ever soaring.
Samaritan is based around two genetically-gifted twin brothers who both developed fantastic powers, but were despised by their community for them. After hateful citizens burn their family home down, killing their parents in the process, one brother vows to use his powers for vengeance while the other takes a path of redemption. Thus, an all-out war between the two breaks out across the fictional Granite City with the good-natured Samaritan on one side and the hate-fueled Nemesis on the other, culminating in a final clash that seemingly leads to the demise of them both.
It’s a decent, simple plot for a movie like this and one that could provide a lot of depth to the characters in the right hands. Stallone’s reclusive Joe Smith, now working as a garbage man despite possessing the awesome abilities of Samaritan, is rightfully a haunted and shattered man seemingly adrift after the trauma he evidently experienced.
The movie shows us that in just fleeting moments, however. Short spurts of reflection, a bout of anger here or a pensive look there, serve as the vast majority of the characterization we get from the movie’s titular role. Instead, the film spends most of its time with Sam Cleary, a young boy who serves as Samaritan’s actual protagonist.
Sam, who’s mother is down on her luck financially, feels forced to get mixed up with the wrong crowd to make a quick buck. He eventually joins some sort of gang for homeless children, think Oliver Twist, run by the villainous Cyrus who acts as Samaritan’s equivalent to Fagin. Cyrus’ goals go beyond just theft and robbery however. He plans to fulfill Nemesis’ so-called final plan and take out Granite City’s power grid to plunge it into chaos.
If that sounds completely ridiculous to you, and almost entirely off-topic from what should be the plot of the movie, well you hit the nail on the head. While there’s thankfully no singing, this Oliver! by way of Zack Snyder has a way of eliciting about as many eyerolls.
Cyrus somehow finds a way to steal a giant hammer that was once wielded by Nemesis from a high-security prison and subsequently incite riots throughout the city seemingly with a single speech given to a crowd of about 50 people all while operating a full-fledged criminal enterprise that lets him keep the city’s cops in his back pocket. All this under the guise of some strange Robin Hood mentality of stealing from the rich that’s never actually shown in action.
Of course, since a grade school aged boy is somehow mixed up with the head of this vastly powerful criminal enterprise that for some reason resorts to child labor, it eventually attracts the attention of his super-powered neighbor, Stallone’s Joe Smith. Joe saves Sam from a would-be beatdown from some of Cyrus’ thugs after he embarrasses them in front of their boss. After Sam repays the favor by breaking into Joe’s house to try to prove he’s Samaritan, an even more inane rabbit hole of a pointless plot development, Joe decides to take the troubled kid under his wing.
It’s through this relationship that Samaritan tries to sell the story of its protagonist. Joe’s gruff but good heart is key, with Stallone bringing the style of his famous boxer’s Philadelphia days to the screen once again. Instead of using the accompanying misguided natural curiosity of a young boy who’s desperate to prove his neighbor is a superhero to let the viewers explore Samaritan’s world though, the movie keeps its universe under lock and key in a lackluster effort at building mystery and intrigue.
When combined with a ridiculous parody of a villain, it makes the movie feel tacky and contrived. The rushed and uninterested scripting almost seems to make some of the movie’s other low budget choices pop even more, like poorly done CG elements and a painful lack of eye-catching heroic deeds.
It also makes the movie’s final act resoundingly less satisfying even as Stallone gets a chance to finally let loose and kick some bad guy butt on his way to a confrontation with Cyrus. What should be an epic finale only succeeds in the fisticuffs. All of the climatic storytelling beats hit at a breakneck speed that leave the viewer more than a little mystified as to what exactly they were supposed to take away beyond an achingly obvious moral to the story that was visible from a mile away
Nonetheless, for the sake of Stallone and Stallone alone, this movie isn’t entirely a waste of time. There’s certainly worse ways to spend a lazy evening than watching a legendary action hero trade blows with nameless henchmen. It’s just a shame that Samaritan couldn’t give more.
Spotlight Score: 5/10