Decades ago, in Granite City, the famous superhero Samaritan (Sylvester Stallone) and his twin brother Nemesis (also Stallone) allegedly fought to the death. In this day and age, a poverty-stricken teenager named Sam (Javon Walton) wants to believe rumors that the Samaritan is still out there.
Making an original superhero movie these days is not an easy task. In case you haven’t noticed, they’re everywhere — and with the threat of “superhero fatigue” always lurking among viewers, it takes a lot for something to feel fresh. Samaritan, based on the 2014 graphic novel by Mythos Comics, definitely leans into its legacy; A heavily saturated, semi-animated prologue builds the story in defiantly cartoonish terms, a story about an old-fashioned battle between good and evil – the old chestnut. It’s a bright, colorful way to start, but it leaves a nagging sense of familiarity.
Javon “Wanna” Walton (left) as Sam Cleary and Sylvester Stallone (right) as Joe Smith in “SAMARITAN,” directed by Julius Avery, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Photo credit: Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All rights reserved.
This preamble establishes a battle fought 25 years earlier between two all-powerful brothers who became sworn enemies and, so the story goes, killed each other in the process. But rumor has it that one of them, the kindhearted Samaritan (Sylvester Stallone), is still alive, fueled by the conspiracy theorist-like Albert Casier (Martin Starr, now in his fifth superhero film) and consumed by the starry Sam (euphoriaby Javon Walton).
The story unfolds from Sam’s perspective: a brave, precocious child who still believes in superheroes, in a time and place where crime is on the rise and people are living below the poverty line. Sam gets carried away with the wrong people and meets some local gangsters who can be recognized by their tattoos and alternative hairstyles. Chief among them is mob leader Cyrus, played by villain specialist Pilou Asbæk, who seeks Nemesis’ magical glowing hammer for his own nefarious means.
This is a superhero movie that embraces cheese warmly, making it feel like something straight out of the ’90s
If that all sounds nice on the nose (for reference: Samaritan = good guy, Nemesis = bad guy), well, it is. Though pre-release marketing promises a “darker” approach to the genre, this is a cheese-embracing superhero film that feels like something straight out of the ’90s, before superheroes grew up on screens and filmmakers started thinking about adult audiences – something from the pre-Feige, pre-Nolan, pre-Snyder era.
There are some good performances here that keep it from being a total disappointment: Stallone is great fun as the gruff, grumpy old hero who lives as a ‘cave dweller’, collecting old junk to crush with his powerful hands before he reluctantly shuffles out of retirement. Walton is decent too, giving his character the same dizzying sense of wish-granting that made Shazam so charming, a hero teens can see themselves in. But the pack as a whole feels a bit dated, an attempt to ride the superhero wave without a hero who understands what made that wave successful. Good Samaritans? Not quite.
In a crowded market, it takes a lot for new superhero movies to stand out; Despite some solid work from Sylvester Stallone, it’s not really clear what Samaritan brings to the table.