Samaritan (United States, 2022)

August 26, 2022
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Samaritan Poster

It’s not the 1980s anymore, so any action movie starring Sylvester Stallone should be approached with a level of skepticism. This isn’t Stallone’s first venture into comic book-inspired productions – he has recently appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy and The Suicide Squad (and, if you go back far enough, there’s Judge Dredd). In between, he has been doing various Expendables and Escape Plan sequels. Still, Stallone’s popularity is rooted in Rocky and Rambo and whatever goodwill he has earned from them doesn’t extend to something like Samaritan, which feels like the warmed-up leftovers of a superhero franchise that both Marvel and DC passed on.

To be fair, Samaritan isn’t terrible but neither is it especially good. It’s a B-grade comic book movie that looks, sounds, and plays like a B-grade comic book movie. It’s debuting directly on Amazon’s Prime Video service so, while it doesn’t cost anything to a subscriber, a case could be made for it as disposable, forgettable entertainment. The chief problem is that the premise sounds a lot more interesting than what’s on-screen – evidence perhaps that with a bigger budget, a stronger screenplay, and better world-building, Samaritan might have been good enough to warrant a theatrical release. But that’s not the movie we have been given by director Julius Avery and screenwriter Bragi F. Schut (who also wrote the graphic novel upon which these proceedings are based).

The movie transpires in Granite City, which has about as much personality as a generic urban backlot. That’s part of the problem; for the movie to work, Granite City has to possess a unique aesthetic akin to Gotham City in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Instead, it feels not only underpopulated (seemingly by refuges from a Purge movie) but lacking in anything remotely resembling character or individuality.

Samaritan crams its entire backstory into an animated prologue (the animation is either rotoscoped or made to look rotoscoped) that tells how two legendary figures, twin brothers Samaritan (the superhero) and Nemesis (the super villain), became enemies following the death of their parents and fought an apocalyptic battle from which neither emerged. The rest of the movie transpires a quarter-century later and chronicles the efforts of a teenage boy, Sam (Javon “Wanna” Walton), to escape the boredom and drudgery of living in the projects by searching the city’s elderly population for someone who might be Samaritan, now living an under-the-radar life and no longer doing good deeds. He finds his candidate in Joe Smith (Stallone), a recluse who saves him from a beat-down at the hands of bullies and doesn’t seem bothered by grabbing the business end of a knife. Sam’s suspicions are seemingly confirmed when Joe gets up after being flattened by a speeding car. He shakes off the injury and eats some ice cream but admits to nothing. Meanwhile, a local crime boss, Cyrus (Pilou Asbaek), has decided to adopt the persona of his hero, Nemesis, and use that identity to foment anarchy and rebellion. This development greatly disturbs Joe, who decides he may have to step out of the shadows.

Playing Joe, Stallone is glum and taciturn, evincing little in the way of charisma. He (either aided by CGI and/or a stunt double) does plenty of punching but, in an age when John Wick has redefined the fight scene, it often feels like he’s moving in slow-motion. (One could argue that Arnold Schwarzenegger might have brought a little more to the role, especially considering certain similarities to the T-800.) The battles offer little in the way of tension, although that’s partially because the bad guy is so unremarkable – he’s more like a Bond henchman than a true villain (think a verbose Oddjob with a John Henry-style hammer instead of the iconic bowler). The narrative’s big twist is telegraphed far too early and is thus easily guessable shortly after the opening credits.

There’s something compelling about the idea of a once-great hero going incognito to ruminate about the choices that defined his life and built a public perception. Had the movie focused on this aspect rather than the lame efforts of a wannabe crime lord or the (misplaced?) hero worship of a 13-year old, Samaritan might have offered something deeper and more compelling. As it, however, the best aspects of the movie drift into the background and we’re left churning through an assemblage of action/superhero tropes that offers little that’s new, original, or attention-grabbing.

Samaritan (United States, 2022)

Run Time: 1:39
U.S. Release Date: 2022-08-26
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Genre: Action
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1