VOD film review: Samaritan (2022)
James R | On 28, Aug 2022
Director: Julius Avery
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Javon Walton, Pilou Asbæk
“He beats up children?” “No, older kids. Like, gang kids.” That awkward line of dialogue partway through Samaritan gets to the awkward heart of Amazon’s new superhero film. The film is set in Granite City, a crime-ridden place where the young, naive Sam (Javon Walton) hopes that the superhero he idolised as a child is still out there to save the day. His theory? That Joe Smith, the neighbourhood garbage collector, is secretly Samaritan in hiding. The fact that Joe Smith is played by Sylvester Stallone perhaps tells you all you need.
There’s a simplicity to the set-up that’s quite refreshing in an age of sequels and universe-building franchises, and the whole backstory is summed up in a neatly animated prologue – Samaritan and Nemesis were two brothers with conflicting ideologies, who ended up apparently killing each other. There’s also a very nice idea in the second half that builds on that simplicity with some surprisingly complex moral themes.
But any signs of promise never quite come to fruition, as the script and direction repeatedly fall into derivative cliche rather than find fresh twists on familiar ideas. The cast do their best, with Stallone convincingly shouldering the burden of a superhero’s legacy like a gruff, retired heavyweight, while the scene-stealing Pilou Asbæk as gang leader Cyrus reminds us that he has a good Bond villain in him, but that this definitely isn’t it.
With several key beats seemingly not thought through – such as the scene where Stallone saves Sam from older kids in a car park by beating them all up – the result is an underwhelming and sadly generic outing that feels more like a one-last-ride project for Stallone than the birth of an original superhero. Compared to the left-field comic book stylings of, say, Unbreakable, Samaritan is a missed opportunity that’s worth passing by on the other side of the road.