Samaritan review: Sylvester Stallone becomes an Unbreakable superhero

Cameron Frew
Sylvester Stallone in SamaritanAmazon Studios

Samaritan, Sylvester Stallone’s debut as an Unbreakable comic book vigilante, is the most derivative so-called subversion of the superhero genre so far. Yet, it’s harmless, if you give in to its mediocrity.

Bragi F. Schut upended the natural order. X-Men, Spider-Man, The Avengers; they all had roots in comic books before Hollywood got its mitts on them. Samaritan first took form as a spec script, then Schut adapted it into a minor series of comics in 2014, but MGM didn’t acquire the screenplay until five years later.

Gotham wasn’t built in a day, but time undoes any of its zest. In this superhero gulf we call pop culture, characters and stories have already been satirized, parodied, and reinvented to no end. Unbreakable deconstructed an empire before it rose, and we’ve since had Kick-Ass, Invincible, and The Boys.

Samaritan is an unintentional casualty of trappings that were once considered fresh; it’s a gritty superhero movie set in “Granite City”, for crying out loud.

Samaritan begins with Cain and Abel in a duel to the death

A slap-dash opening montage sets the scene: once upon a time, there were identical twin two brothers who weren’t like other kids. They hurt people without trying, so the local residents Freddy Kruegered both of them and their family.

Like Daenerys, only they emerged from the fire, but good and evil were forged that day: one became Samaritan, a crimefighting hero who sought to protect justice; the other took on the mantle of Nemesis, consumed by revenge and vowing to make people pay for their tragedy.

Years later, Nemesis built a hammer capable of killing his brother and lured him into a trap. Their face-off was deadly, with both perishing in a towering inferno. Reporters said they died, but many believe Samaritan to be alive – including Sam (Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton), a young boy in an impoverished tower block who has nothing to believe in… well, except superheroes and bad guys.

Sylvester Stallone’s Samaritan is the highlight

Joe Smith (Stallone) is a garbage man who likes tinkering with bits and bobs; broken fans, watches, toasters, whatever he can find in a skip. He keeps himself to himself, wandering around the post-apocalypse of Granite City with his hood up and his eyes down, but when he sees Sam getting a beating from the local hoodlums, he jumps in and throws them around like a wet tracksuit. The pair soon become begrudging friends, but Sam’s brush with street crime and Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk) paves the way for a collision course.

The action is passably helmed by Julius Avery, who directed 2018’s excellent Overlord. He utilizes Stallone’s natural physicality well, making him both the brute force and unstoppable object for anyone stupid enough to throw a punch; note, he runs through walls, uses a rubber tyre like Captain America’s shield, kicks a man into two other men like an American football, and plants a grenade into a man’s tummy.

Sylvester Stallone in SamaritanAmazon Studios

Stallone’s clearly having a great time, honing his long-winning charisma for an altogether likable performance. At 76, you’d need a brass neck to suggest retirement. After running around his Last Blood house of horrors in 2019, he’s once again proved his growling action chops. He even squeezes in a small boxing scene, and delivers a line that’s essentially a variant of “If I can change and you can change, everybody can change.”

Samaritan is an otherwise feeble B-movie

Remove Stallone and the whole thing falls apart. Walton is peppy but annoying. The film wastes Dascha Polanco his mum. Pilou Asbæk has the teeth-gnashing charm of a great villain, but Schut’s script doesn’t do him, nor anyone else, any favors; your eyes will roll so far back into your head, you might just see your brain eroding.

This could be at the sight of Moisés Arias gang leader clearly modeled on Tekashi 6ix9ine, news reports about homelessness and unemployment that feel like the sort of gobbledygook in fake movie articles; or most criminally, Cyrus’ budget-Bane speech in a jacket just like Bane’s, saying things like, “Our movement will put power back in the hands of the people” while raising his arms.

Sylvester Stallone and Pilou Asbæk in SamaritanAmazon Studios
Sylvester Stallone and Pilou Asbæk star in Samaritan.

That said, there is a sense of constant threat in the world, with local kids turning to petty crime just to get by, or have something to do. It’d be the perfect haunt for RoboCop if he made his way out of Detroit (there’s even an arcade machine with the old game in one scene, so its essence is intentional).

Avery is a nifty director, but whether it’s laziness or the powers that be, this isn’t a showcase for his talents. They briefly peek through, whether it’s Stallone’s brief contorting or the opening, sizzling comic book-style sequence (it is a bit like you’ve gone too far in a photo editor and can’t press undo, but nevertheless), but scenes are often workmanlike and unimaginative, brought to life with all the flair of a TV film from the early aughts.

The Verdict: Is Samaritan good?

Samaritan is a straight-to-streaming movie from the DVD era. Stallone is on nippy form as a grimy, grizzled Superman, but everything else feels like an afterthought, right up to the shrug that should have been a gasp. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel – it just keeps turning.

Samaritan is available to stream on Prime Video now.

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