Samaritan is a new urban superhero action movie directed by Julius Avery and written by Bragi F. Schut. The film stars Sylvester Stallone, Dasha Polanco (orange is the new black), Javon’ Wanna’ Walton (Euphoria), and Pilou Asbæk (Unexplored). This gritty story begins with a promise, but the pace stops abruptly from the start and never picks up. The cast is a solid mix of talented actors, but the limitations of the script restrict them. When it comes down to the basics, the Samaritan is a colorless company that has been there, especially for Stallone.
The cold, dank, post-apocalyptic location of Granite City needs heroes. The people of the city are caught between two factions: those who idolize the costumed hero, the Samaritan, and those who worship the volatile supervillain, Nemesis; these two are identical twins. Twenty-five years ago, they both died in a warehouse fire and Nemesis left behind a powerful hammer that he forged before he died. Cyrus (Asbæk) is the typical lord of a gang of evil that wants to bring the city to ruin and puts himself in the place of Nemesis by stealing the hammer and the mask from the police evidence.
People can’t go to the police for help, but Sam Cleary (Walton), a 13-year-old homeless boy who works on the projects, believes Samaritan is still alive. He strikes up a friendship with Joe (Stallone), one of his older, grizzled, lonely neighbors who works sanitation and dumpsters for collectibles. The boy has no idea of Joe’s origins until one day, when some local gang members attack the young teenager, Joe swoops in and starts throwing people down the street. That’s when Sam suspects that Joe might be the hero that Granite City has been missing.
Samaritan offers the same type of action that we always see from Sylvester Stallone. The grumpy, chiseled older man gets thrown into a situation he didn’t ask for and now must help the helpless and save the day. The final showdown usually takes place in an old warehouse or open field, with tons of casualties, weapons burning, and bodies flying. Those kinds of movies can be entertaining, but the actor should have experimented more in this superheroic landscape.
While the action scenes are useful, it takes about 45 minutes to get to them. It spends most of the runtime with Joe and Sam walking around Granite City spouting off an exposition that doesn’t teach the audience anything new. The characters’ costumes and personalities are drawn from pop culture. For example, Reza (Moises Arias), one of Cyrus’ henchmen, is an unmistakable rip-off of Takeshi 69 (yes, the rapper). At the same time, Cyrus is a Bane impersonator and gives a Bane-like speech to the people of Granite City in the same kind of sheepskin coat Tom Hardy wore in The dark knight rises. Lastly, the Nemesis and Samaritan costumes are a clear reference to Captain America’s villain, Crossbones.
Of course the inspiration has to come from somewhere, but there are so many references to other things that Samaritan never stands on its own. Although I will say that the opening scene stands out among the entire movie as it plays out like a live comic with great editing and graphics. It’s the best part of the movie.
For all its desolation and themes of redemption and heroism, Samaritan it lacks the depth to explore these concepts. There’s a better movie within Schut’s script, but he needed a few more showings before heading to production. Avery deserves a round of applause for giving Stallone a different avenue to explore, but he wishes he’d pushed it beyond his cinematic comfort zone.