As if Sylvester Stallone hadn’t already played enough larger-than-life superhuman characters with a seemingly infinite capacity for absorbing punishment, Samaritan affords him the opportunity to do just that (again). However, unlike Rocky, Rambo, and whatever the guy from The Expendables is called, his character in Samaritan is – outwardly at least – the opposite: he’s an unassuming man who rejects the power heaped upon him. Much of Samaritan‘s story revolves around this particular identity crisis, making it a film that simultaneously borrows from Stallone’s cinematic past while subtly subverting it.
Samaritan tells the story of Sam (Javon Walton) a young boy living in Granite City during a period of severe economic decline. The city has suffered since the death of its super-powered hero, Samaritan, after he and his twin brother, the supervillain Nemesis, died fighting one another. However, Sam believes that Samaritan survived, and that he’s living among the citizens of Granite City. An encounter with a reclusive neighbor leads Sam to the discovery that Joe Smith (Sylvester Stallone) is actually Samaritan, and he begins to convince the hero to step up once again to save the city.
Samaritan‘s villain, Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk) enlists the criminal services of Granite City’s youth, and harbors an unhealthy obsession with Nemesis, Samaritan’s unimaginatively-named villainous twin brother. Sam discovers Cyrus’ plot to step into Nemesis’ shoes and attack the city, and enlists Joe to help stop the criminal. However, all is not as it seems, and both Sam and Joe learn a great deal about each other and themselves while opposing Cyrus.
Good Performances Almost Mask Samaritan’s Lazy Writing
Samaritan opens with a fairly uninspired exposition dump that sets the scene for an incredibly generic superhero movie. However, Javon Walton’s performance immediately shifts gear from the opening sequence, introducing what appears to be layered and convincingly-crafted world through the perspective of his lack of youthful innocence. The appearance of Stallone and Asbæk continue this, with both actors thoroughly enriching the world with competent performances that clearly demonstrate each character’s purpose and motivations.
However, solid performances from the film’s core cast can’t carry the film entirely, and lazy writing soon begins to shine through. Samaritan‘s plot begins to make use of increasingly convenient narrative ideas, including a weapon inexplicably strong enough to hurt super-powered Joe (apparently, being “forged in rage” is akin to magic) and multiple unexplained personality shifts that were clearly written in simply to service the plot. All of this contributes to a twist that’s incredibly predictable, with the immediate aftermath undermining the weight it should have carried.
Lazy writing aside, Samaritan still manages to be a worthwhile watch. Walton and Stallone’s chemistry is good, and Pilou Asbæk’s mesmerizing villainy is always entertaining. What’s more, Samaritan does manage to flirt with subtlety: despite the shortcomings of its story, it does gently touch on deeper themes without bludgeoning its audience with them.
Some of Samaritan‘s visual effects are unconvincing (particularly a poorly executed digital de-aging of Stallone), but its action sequences look great. By mostly using practical effects, Samaritan keeps the gritty aesthetic of Granite City intact, contributing to a general atmosphere that feels consistent with the film’s story. It makes use of Stallone’s action hero status, but also attempts to incorporate more interesting layers to his character. However, this is also poorly-written, and it feels like a cheap last-minute insertion into the film’s final act.
Ultimately, Samaritan is a film with a lot of unfulfilled potential. There’s a genuine heart to the film (mostly thanks to the talents of its cast), but it also plays as though significant character development was cut out at the last minute. Certain leaps in characterization are made that are simply too convenient to overlook, and that hurts what is otherwise an interesting entry into an over-saturated genre.
Summary: Samaritan does a lot right, but some of its storytelling is simply not up to scratch. A solid central trio mask its worst story missteps, though, leading to a film that lands just on the right side of average.
Highlight: The twist subtly underpins Samaritan‘s central idea, but it’s a double-edged sword: it’s either subtle by design or it simply wasn’t properly written, but whether its a clever development or a lucky mistake, it works.