REVIEW: Samaritan [Prime Video]


2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

In Samaritan, a scrappy kid (Javon Walton) discovers that a refuse collector who lives across the street (Sylvester Stallone) may in fact be his idol, long-presumed-dead superhero Samaritan.

As with any popular genre before it, the superhero movie is now starting to reckon with its long-lived popularity. As DC publicly implodes due to parsimonious new management and one of its leads having recently gone on a crime spree, and even the indefatigable Marvel showing signs of fatigue, now seems like a time to question, “What are superheroes for?”.

It’s not, of course, a new question. Alan Moore explored it, arguably definitively, with his comic Watchmen back in the 1980s. Currently, Prime Video’s own The Boys, itself based on a comic series, continues its bloody, scatological deconstruction of what superheroes are for.

Samaritan, also on Prime, feels less revisionist than a bit like homework. Its setting, Granite City, is your usual rain-soaked, litter-strewn urban dystopia, where the criminal class seem to dramatically outnumber the honest, decent citizenry. Thirteen-year-old Sam (Walton) lives with nurse single-mom Tiffany (Dascha Yolaine Polanco). In order to help make ends meet, Sam helps out a local gang and, in doing so, comes to the attention of its leader, Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk with a white-blonde perm).

Cyrus is a follower of the antiestablisment Nemesis, the not-so-imaginatively titled brother and adversary of Samaritan, who he dismisses as “just another cop”. Samaritan and Nemesis both vanished the same night decades before after a climactic battle. The battle is revealed over the course of the Samaritan‘s runtime, presented via Rotoscope as a lurid comic-book showdown come to life.

However, this seems to be the limit of director Julius Avery’s visual inventiveness, which was put to far schlockier, more memorable use in 2018’s WW2 zombie actioner Overlord. There’s a certain mileage in watching Stallone, grizzled and hulking in puffer jacket and hoody, shrugging off bullets and throwing henchmen like rag-dolls, but Bragi F. Schut script never rises above rote moralising.

Gruff, unwilling mentorship is very much in Stallone’s wheelhouse and Cleary’s Sam, while engaging, doesn’t get much of a defined character beyond his admiration for Samaritan. Their odd couple relationship is also increasingly at odds with the film’s descent into darkness, as Cyrus uses a stolen military weapon and the legend of Nemesis to stir up trouble on the streets like a dime-store version of Bane from Dark Knight Rises. In this, Asbaek, brings the same brand of smiley, wild-eyed villainy that led to his breakout on Game of Thrones. The social commentary in Nolan’s film was muddled, here it’s nonexistent.

Jed Kurzel and Kevin Kliner’s score plays like it as written for an epic, but Samaritan can’t quite muster the same insight, or budget, to break free of the usual superhero tropes. Old-age Unbreakable it isn’t.

Samaritan is available to watch on Prime Video

Author: robertmwallis

Graduate of Royal Holloway and the London Film School. Founder of Of All The Film Sites; formerly Of All The Film Blogs. Formerly Film & TV Editor of The Metropolist and Official Sidekick at A Place to Hang Your Cape. Co-host of The Movie RobCast podcast (formerly Electric Shadows) and member of the Online Film Critics Society.

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