Samaritan Review: A Wasted Opportunity

Granite City's superhero Samaritan has disappeared for decades, believed deceased, but a young boy believes he's still around and sets out to find him. Stallone's peak action days are long gone and superhero movie fatigue has long set in; can the aging action star pull this one out of the bag or should Samaritan have stayed missing?

Samaritan Review Cover

As an unashamed Stallone fan, I was looking forward to this movie. Is Samaritan as hilariously terrible as I hoped it might be, or can Sylvester Stallone pull off a late career performance on par with that of the Creed series? Personally, I was entirely hoping for a schlocky mess of a superhero film with terrible acting, terrible dialogue and a terrible script. The film somewhat delivers on those counts – but does it have any redeeming qualities and is Stallone’s performance at least entertaining?

This is a superhero film based on a comic written by Bragi Schut, who only released two issues before the rights were snapped up. That is admittedly an impressive accolade, and with Schut also writing the screenplay; it’s possible this film is more than meets the eye. It is of course direct to streaming, but direct to streaming films aren’t always necessarily bad.

This review contains mild spoilers

Samaritan is available now to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

Samaritan - Official Trailer | Prime Video

Story: Too High on Exposition

The film starts out with an exposition dump explaining the origins and fate of the super powered twin brothers and sworn enemies Samaritan and Nemesis. In this narration, they ultimately fight to the death in a burning power plant with both believed to be dead.

Decades later there are people who believe Samaritan is still around, and there’s a gang who idolise Nemesis and want to bring back the anarchy he once caused. It’s a shame that this is all glossed over in a CGI heavy opening sequence, as the backstory is more interesting than the actual story of the film. Not much more interesting, granted, but still.

 
Samaritan Cinematography

Samaritan reveals his true identity to Sam.

The young boy has a history of accusing everyone from the pizza delivery guy to a janitor at his school of being Samaritan, but he finds the real deal when he’s rescued by the man himself who shows his strength by crushing a knife blade in the grip of his fist.

This all culminates in one of the worst third acts ever committed to film where the horrendous CGI takes centre stage, and everything we’ve learnt about Samaritan‘s power goes out of the window.

The third act also contains a twist I saw coming long before it was revealed, that was delivered with all the excitement of a day out with your in-laws. It’s not a bad twist but the set up was poor and the payoff poorer still.

Characters: Rocky in Places

Stallone’s Samaritan plays a largely secondary role in this film, which revolves around Javon Walton’s character Sam Cleary. Sam is a young 13 year old boy obsessed with finding the long absent Samaritan, and somehow gets himself involved with a nefarious gang in order to help his financially struggling mother to pay the rent. 

Javon Walton does really well with the material he’s given. Young actors on film can often be irritating and unbelievable, but it’s a testament to the quality of his acting that his performance never takes me out of the film.

Stallone is also on top form as he gives a great understated performance that is only hamstrung by the direction in the later action scenes. He’s genuinely good and elevates the material here. Without these two I have no doubt the film would be unwatchable.

Samaritan Sam and Samaritan

Sam and Samaritan – two of the bright spots in the movie.

Unfortunately, on the other hand, the villains are comically awful. Pilou Asbæk plays the main villain Cyrus, and is given nothing to do and therefore nothing to work with. His girlfriend and fellow criminal Sil (Sophia Tatum) is also severely underwritten and serves absolutely no purpose in the film. The villains’ motivations are either nonsensical or non-existent, which leads to a final showdown with no real stakes.

There is one scene in particular where the lack of budget is evident; Cyrus plans to rouse an angry mob in order to provoke anarchy across the city, however it appears they could only afford a handful of emotionless extras.

Samaritan Cyrus

Cyrus is ready to bring anarchy to the city…for some reason.

Direction and Story Issues: Bludgeoned by Budget

The film starts off well – Granite City looks suitably tarnished; it’s like Gotham City but with more slum villages, graffiti and trash strewn about. It’s a good set up and is suitably stylised; a well executed tone and introduction to the film’s universe. When the film stays within the confines of its budget it works really well, it’s only later on that the film overextends itself and falls well short of what it’s trying to achieve.

The direction and story truly falters when it comes to Samaritan himself. It’s established early on that the more punishment his body takes, the more he heats up, and the higher the risk of his heart exploding.

He is run over at one point; his body is twisted and contorted, and his face is battered and bruised. His body snaps back into place, but it’s only after he’s rejuvenated by water in the shower that he can survive this attack. This sets him up to have a flaw, meaning he can be beaten, and also defines his strength.

Samaritan Review The Mask

The mask – part of Samaritan’s terrible costume.

The film then proceeds on to the third act, where Samaritan can be smacked in the head by a powered up sledgehammer and get a hellfire of machine gun bullets pumped into him, without so much as having to catch his breath. His clothes even seem impervious to the damage. It goes completely against the rules the movie has previously defined.

The Third Act: An Embarrassing Mess

The latter part of the movie takes place in a burning building, where the terrible effects really go off the deep end. The fire that surrounds them is obviously a cheap plug in effect. There is no sense of heat, or people struggling to breathe in the smog. The young protagonist is in the building for at least 20 minutes and does not have one particle of soot on him, and has no trouble breathing at all. He doesn’t even utter a single cough.

Directly after this, Stallone’s Samaritan snatches him up and runs him through a solid wall, jumps across to another building, and the young boy is just as spritely and energetic as ever.

Samaritan Some Effects are Better Than Others

Some effects in the film are better than others

My absolute favourite moment of special effects failure has to be the flashback sequence that takes place decades before. We see a young de-aged Stallone as Samaritan, looking like he’s stepped right out of an Xbox 360 game, complete with glossy skin and dead eyed stare.

The budget really shows here, and I think if they’d set the flashback sequences in black and white and not lingered so long on them, it might have worked. They don’t do this; in fact, the filmmakers seem proud enough to return to the sequence again later on. 

Ultimately, Samaritan needs a few rewrites and a completely reworked end portion. Underneath it all there are some great ideas, it’s just unfortunate that the film falters in almost every area of its execution.

Summary
I'd recommend the film for a strong start and strong performances from Stallone and Walton, and I'd also recommend it for it's cringeworthy last third. The problem is that these recommendations are so diametrically opposed that it's tough to recommend fully for either reason.
Good
  • Great performances by Sylvester Stallone and Javon Walton
  • A promising opening act
Bad
  • An all too obvious low budget
  • Extremely underwritten villains
  • Clumsy writing that culminates in a horrendous third act
  • Hilariously bad CGI
5
Average
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