It’s been a while since I saw Sylvester Stallone in anything, which was Creed II in 2018 (though he did voice the hilarious shark in The Suicide Squad). The 76-year-old actor remains in good shape so it’s unsurprising that he’s drawn to a superhero role, and he still looks believable as one.
The story is based on Bragi F. Schut’s 2014 graphic novel from Mythos Comics, who also co-wrote the script with Australian director Julius Avery. The opening of the movie gives us a quick backstory to the title character and his twin brother Nemesis, who has superhuman strength, in comics-style animation. The twins fight ferociously that end up in a fiery explosion, then cut to the present day in a tattered urban town called Granite City where a 13-year boy Sam Cleary (Javon Walton) lives with his nurse mom in a run-down apartment, barely making ends meet. Sam’s run-in with a local gang leads to an encounter with a reclusive garbage collector Joe Smith (Sly) who displays super strength as he fights off a group of thugs. Sam immediately suspects Joe is the long-lost Samaritan who’s thought to have been dead 20 years ago.
There’s not much mystery that Joe is the missing old hero that Sam has been looking for, but it’s never clear why he goes into hiding and why he chooses to collect garbage for a living. Of course a hero can’t stay in the shadows forever, especially when a local gang leader threatens to disrupt the peace of the city (though it never looked all that peaceful to begin with). Again, it’s unclear why Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk) is hellbent on finding the hammer than once belongs to Nemesis, but this good-for-nothin’ crime lord type is more annoying than menacing.
Sly has played this strong-silent type all his life, so he can clearly play this role in his sleep. Unfortunately, the way his character is written just isn’t that interesting nor even fun to watch. He’s so morose and exasperated the entire time, which becomes contagious as I feel that way watching it.
There is no shortage of superhero movies these days, so it’d take something unique and extraordinary to stand out from the pack. I think this story has the potential to at least be an intriguing action thriller or perhaps a superhero deconstruction. Alas, the movie doesn’t offer anything new to the genre and Avery’s direction feels stale and lethargic. It doesn’t help matters that the script spends too much time focusing on a dull, rather irksome pre-teen boy, and drags it down further with banal expository dialogues between Joe and Sam.
Avery attempts to marry the lucrative superhero genre and Charles Bronson’s 1970s B-movie revenge actioner, with a clichéd father-son/unlikely-friendship storyline thrown in. The result is a hollow, uninspired movie that could’ve been something DC nor Marvel says no to. There is an unexpected twist revealed in the finale, but whatever little kick it tries to muster feels too little too late by that point.
One can’t even say this is a style-over-substance type of movie as the drab visual is nothing to write home about, there isn’t any ‘one perfect shot’ nor memorable action scene that we haven’t seen before. The urban city is clearly modeled after Batman’s Gotham City with it being overrun by crime gangs and petty criminals, except there’s no personality to it other than the decaying look.
Good thing the movie is a straight-to-streaming on Amazon Prime as it’d be a waste of time watching this on the big screen. Ultimately, Samaritan doesn’t live up to its name as the movie barely offers any redeeming values. It’s a shame as I think Sly still got it in him, but he needs to find much better material if he wants to give his action-star career a fresh jolt.