We have been showered with an abundance of superhero-related content for years in the wake of the MCU’s breakaway success. Unfortunately, this means that many of the movies flying out of the conveyor belt emerge from the other side undercooked. Having more in common with something like 2008’s Hancock rather than one’s traditional caped-crusader flick, director Julius Avery’s first PG-13 outing is robbed of his usual gritty style seen in Son of Gun and Overlord. Samaritan has an absolutely killer concept, but is lacking from top to bottom in virtually every other existing facet.
The legendary fight between good and evil, in this universe, was waged between two twin brothers who would become mortal enemies. After their ungodly strength caused townspeople to burn their home to the ground—sadly killing both parents—Nemesis and Samaritan both followed two very different paths. Samaritan became a superhero for the downtrodden in society, whilst Nemesis channeled his hatred into revenge, eventually forging a powerful hammer. Their battle came to a head in a giant explosion that allegedly killed them both. A comic book style opening sequence narrated by our hero—13 year-old Sam (Javon Walton, Euphoria), who also happens to be a fierce believer in Samaritan actually still being alive—recounts this entire story. I was immediately pulled into the film after this, and thought the movie for sure started on a high note.
From here, we flash forward twenty years later, and it takes far too long for the movie to get going. For me, it never again matches the excellent tone of that opening. Sam’s mom works as a nurse at Granite City General, yet she weirdly doesn’t have enough money to make rent for their tiny apartment. Sam steals wire from walls of buildings with his pal, Jace (Abraham Clinkscales, Brightburn, Black Panther), to sell them off for money at the junkyard. When Sam gets involved in a scheme to steal boxes of lottery tickets from a local convenience store, he becomes embroiled with crime boss Cyrus (Pilou Asbaek, Uncharted, Overlord). Sam is obsessed with Samaritan, and Cyrus is likewise hooked on Nemesis, going so far as having a tattoo of the symbol on both his cheek and chest. I had to laugh when Cyrus goes out of his way to show off the chest tat to a shocked Sam, meanwhile an identical Nemesis tattoo was on his cheek all along.
Sam’s involvement in that crew ends up leading to trouble—neighbor/garbage man Joe Smith (Sylvester Stallone) intervenes just as Sam is about to have the royal crap beaten out of him. Witnessing Joe’s “powers” firsthand, Sam becomes convinced that Joe is Samaritan! Sam forms a close friendship with Joe, almost taken under his wing so to speak. Sam wants to learn how to defend himself from the thugs that continue harassing him on a daily basis. But is Joe actually Samaritan?
An inconsistency in the strength of Samaritan’s powers is frustrating to watch. Javon Walton, who does indeed put in great work as Ashtray in Euphoria, feels woefully miscast. He has the right look, but lacks the dramatic chops required based on the character’s emotional journey. Poor CGI and incessant product placement is also quite distracting from the story they are trying to tell. The one thing I did fully buy was Sam’s close bond with Joe. Sylvester Stallone puts in decent work as the mysterious Joe. His hammy performance still doesn’t make a silly late-in-the-game twist much more palatable. Cheesy one-liners and action scenes arrive too little too late, but the concept does leave plenty of room for sequels if they ever want to go that route.
Samaritan pounds through baddies when it debuts globally to Prime Video on Friday, August 26th.