A couple years ago, I wrote a review of Archenemy which said, “I’m just not sure there’s room for another grounded superhero story in 2020.” It’s now 2022 and I’m perusing the rest of that review to make sure this one isn’t redundant. Not because the films are directly comparable, but because I don’t want to regurgitate my same meditations on Joker, The Boys, and superhero media in a post-Snyder Cut world. Superhero media is difficult to subvert in a world with an MCU, a DCEU, and many successful lampoons of them. But Samaritan tried.
At the top, the movie briefs us with an animated prologue about Samaritan and Nemesis, twin brothers with superhuman powers who were targeted by the residents of Granite City, resulting in the death of their parents. In the aftermath, one grew to be a hero and the other, a villain, until a fight left them presumed dead.
The exposition dump is narrated by Sam (Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton, Euphoria) a down on his luck and poverty-stricken kid insistent that his hero is still alive. While most accept that the two supes were killed in a blaze succeeding their final battle, Sam, and other local zealots, believe that Samaritan survived. After some false flags, Sam discovers Joe (Sylvester Stallone), a blue-collar fella in his apartment complex that he’s convinced is the real deal. Finally revealing Joe to be powered, Sam and his new super friend try to rescue the city from its newest baddie, Cyrus (Pilou AsbÃ¦k), a fan of Nemesis who admires his willingness to beat up people who deserve it.
It’s difficult to distill the film’s premise as it’s hard to pin down. Cyrus and his gang seem to admire Nemesis for his willingness to take down other bad guys, and they refer to Samaritan as a “cop,” putting him down for his over-policing of impoverished neighborhoods or not caring about the people in them. It’s an interesting concept, one tackled throughout Batman media (and the cursed tweets that follow) but the conversation halts when Cyrus becomes a one-dimensional baddie for the back half. It’s challenging to audit the confusing motivations of the villain and it’s easier to just accept that this movie was written with no plan to really analyze them. The themes seem to be born of the idea that they’re breaking new ground by challenging the “good guy/ bad guy” dichotomy but most mainstream superhero media has already done that (we literally have vanilla MCU movies about Cap questioning military authority and the heroes taking different sides).
Of course, just because a premise is common doesn’t mean no one else can tackle it, but Samaritan doesn’t so much seem to be relitigating these concepts as it feels like a bot consumed a bunch of cynical superhero media and spat out an emulation. That feeling is everywhere from the contrived dialogue to the clunky character quirks, messy twists, and the characters’ appearances themselves (Cyrus? Okay, Bane. And sick Miles Morales shoes, Sam). It’s neither a copycat nor an homage, it’s more of a messy attempt that only rounds up common clichÃ©s.
At its core, Samaritan is a B-movie and maybe that’s okay. Sly elevates the ordeal with a solid performance as the aging superhero thrust into being a father figure for this product of misspent youth. Him clunking around and grunting is kind of fun and the laughable climax, well, left me laughing so I guess I had a good time. Bragi F. Schut’s script is hard to defend, but Julius Avery is such a competent director that he makes the movie look great despite itself. Avery also directed the bloody sleeper WWII zombie movie, Overlord, and lots of the dynamic appearance and ability to create and maintain momentum is carried over. He almost feels cuffed by Samaritan’s family friendly PG-13 rating, as some blood might have better painted over the film’s cracks.
Samaritan, like other cynical superhero stories before it, isn’t breaking any molds or bringing anything new to the all-encompassing genre. Like Archenemy before it, it’s no antidote to superhero supremacy nor the gritty stories that try to subvert it. At best, it’s an easy-to-watch B-movie that sees Sly bringing his aged gruff to one of his better campy action performances since Judge Dredd and at worst, it’s a tired and flimsy attempt at creating another grounded analysis of superhero stories that has absolutely no idea that subversion doesn’t mean “same but darker.”
Samaritan is now available to stream om Prime video