Samaritan debuts on Prime Video on Aug. 26 on Prime Video.
Caught between the worlds of superhero movie and anti-superhero movie, the Sylvester Stallone-led Samaritan is a start-to-finish snooze. Hinging on a late reveal that doesn’t feel like a secret, the film from director Julius Avery (and written by Bragi F. Schut) is filled with textures and perspectives it has no idea how to wield, mashing them into a hodgepodge of non-ideas borrowed from other, better movies, both in the superhero genre and in pop culture at large.
While the trailers sell the basic premise — Stallone as a super-strong loner, who a young boy, Sam (Javon Walton), believes is the slain superhero Samaritan — they leave out some key details revealed in its animated opening, narrated by Sam. A few decades prior, Granite City (a rough-and-tumble Atlanta) was plunged into chaos thanks to a pair of invincible twins in nondescript metallic costumes. One brother, Samaritan, supposedly fought for good, while the other, dubbed Nemesis, wreaked havoc with a magical hammer forged from his hatred for Samaritan. Both are believed to have perished in a fire, and despite neither one being seen in ages, they’ve left an indelible mark on the city — or rather, their graffitied logos have. Some recall Samaritan’s heroism and Nemesis’ villainy. Others, like local gangster Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), with his Nemesis tattoos, believe Samaritan to have been a protector of the rich and powerful, while Nemesis was a fighter for the people.
None of this amounts to very much beyond events unfolding in the background. The main story is ostensibly about Sam’s search for Samaritan, who, for reasons unknown, he believes to be alive. It’s a thinly veiled metaphor, in the vein of E.T., for Sam’s fatherless upbringing and his search for a role model — that is, until the film makes it all but explicit before discarding the idea altogether. It’s one of a handful of volatile themes approached as mere gestures. Cyrus, who ends up taking Sam under his wing, speaks in broad platitudes about Samaritan, Nemesis, and their supposed impact on the city, a concept also mentioned by news anchors with scattered lines about inequality, but Cyrus’ plan to resurrect the Nemesis mantle features only a vague resemblance to economic upheaval. The villain both speaks in the faux-revolutionary cadence of Tom Hardy’s Bane from The Dark Knight Rises and even wears a similar bomber jacket, a look that’s completed when he steals Nemesis’ welder mask from a police lockup. But his societal revolt has about as much grounding in reality as Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial.
To make matters even stranger, very little of this plot has anything to do with Stallone’s character, a garbage man named Joe Smith, whose spare time is spent recovering and repairing analog relics like old radios. It’s a fitting hobby for a supposed superhero in hiding (though Samaritan and Nemesis don’t so much resemble comic heroes as they do Shaquille O’Neal’s Steel). However, Joe’s involvement in the story is almost incidental, limited to other characters like Sam and Cyrus egging him on in the hopes that he’ll reveal his identity. As Sam, Walton is a sprightly delight, but neither his character nor Stallone’s talks with anything but doublespeak about Samaritan, Nemesis, death, and secret identities, all meant to obscure something that happens late into the third act, but seems imminently obvious from the animated opening sequence to anyone who’s ever seen a movie. You may have figured it out just by reading the premise, which isn’t a problem in and of itself, but there’s nothing more to it than the matter of what Joe may or may not have done in the past.
Samaritan and Nemesis, who briefly appear in flashbacks, are broad stand-ins for childlike notions of good and evil, but the stray lines of dialogue hinting at further complexity may as well be billboard advertisements reading: “Depth: coming soon.” In Samaritan, the superhero-as-police analog isn’t so much a deconstruction of the Avengers, and other protectors of status quo, as it is an excuse to manufacture opposing sides for mind-numbingly staged action scenes lacking any sense of “oomph” (let alone any sense of comprehensibility). Samaritan and Nemesis, who exist in the minds of Granite City as logo art, barely rise to the level of symbolic, even as people glom onto the words themselves — “Samaritan” and “nemesis” — as if they have inherent meaning beyond what they’re ascribed.
Granite City, at the very least, feels like a real place plagued by real poverty, but the filmmaking renders its problems mere window-dressing to the much less interesting tale in its foreground, of whether or not Sam will convince Joe to admit that he’s Samaritan. The music, by Jed Kurzel and Kevin Kiner, builds commendably in its intensity, but nothing on-screen ever rises to match it. Even Stallone comes off as positively bored by the idea of playing a superhero, but without getting to participate in any of the fun (picture the late Rocky sequels without any boxing, or even boxing gloves).
Nothing Stallone does, or says, or performs, ever hints at any meaningful self-reflection beyond the mere facts of his secret identity.“
Samaritan would likely feel at home alongside the late 2000s/early 2010s wave of “realistic” superhero movies, in response to the early days of Marvel and DC’s cultural dominance (think Defendor, Super, or Kick-Ass), but it has no whimsy about itself, no perspective on the genre, and nothing to say about the moral dimensions it constantly harps on in its dialogue. It would be one thing for its protracted reveal to be underscored by a story of regret or metamorphosis, but nothing Stallone does, or says, or performs, ever hints at any meaningful self-reflection beyond the mere facts of his secret identity. In the process, this identity is the only question that ends up being relevant to young Sam, despite the bare-bones presence of deeper drama underscoring his search.
It’s too blinkered to make a statement, and unfolds too mechanically to leave an impression.
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This story originally appeared on: IGN - Author:Siddhant Adlakha