Upon first seeing the teasers for Sylvester Stallone’s new film, Samaritan, one thought ran through my mind; “this is pretty much the same thing as Archenemy.” There are automatic differences straight from the get-go, but this is entering into Dante’s Peak/Volcano territory. Is this just a surface level comparison? Are these two wildly different films with a shared plot idea at their core? A film doesn’t need to be wholly original to be a success, but there was a chance Samaritan could be dragged down by its close proximity to another release.
Granite City is not an easy place to grow up in. It was once the home to the superhero vigilante, Samaritan. Samaritan would look after and protect the citizens. But when Samaritan died along with his archenemy, Nemesis, the city changed. Quickly turning into an amalgamation of Gotham City and the Detroit of the Robocop universe, Granite City has no one to save it. Even young Sam Cleary (Javon Walton) who idolizes Samaritan and still thinks the hero is alive, has to turn to petty crimes to get by.
Just as a new criminal overlord begins to take over the persona of the now deceased Nemesis, Sam thinks he has proof that what he believed all along is true. The aged, hermit-like, trash collector that lives in the building across from Sam is in fact, the one and only, Samaritan. Is it true? Can Sam get Samaritan back into the game to fight the new Nemesis. Will Granite City get its hero back?
First things, first. To be completely fair to Samaritan; it is based off a comic from 2014, and its screenwriter Bragi Schut, co-wrote the comic. If anything, Archenemy took its cues from Samaritan. But more importantly, these are two different movies. The comparisons are only on the surface, and they are miniscule when you look at them. Both ultimately are using a similar structure to highlight different moral compasses. But to roll the feelings back now, it’s actually the strange necessity to go into Samaritan comparing the two, that makes Samaritan’s ending work even better.
Bragi Schut and director Julius Avery have to swim in familiar territory to dissect the traditional superhero tropes and present them in a new light. That’s also what causes Samaritan’s most egregious faults. I’m not asking for another weekly TV series. We have The Boys for that. But Samaritan needs more room to breathe. There are deep and meaningful themes to explore from the story’s final points. Yet, they’re all presented and glanced over at such a swift rate, they don’t have time to settle in. There’s a desire to have the angles explored in a more mature and real world manner.
On the surface level though, Avery moves in directions that are smart for the film’s presentation. Some of it might not play well with all audiences. Though Joe (that’s the real world name he goes by) has superhuman strength, not everyone goes flying across the room when he hits them. Samaritan provides a reigned in action motif, while still playing the action card. The fighting then ends up looking stiff, much like Stallone’s stature. One person might praise it for its realism. Another person might call it boring.
The same dichotomy exists within the Cyrus clan– the film’s big bad played by Pilou Asbæk who teams back up with Avery after their last collaboration; Overlord. Cyrus in his attempts to bring back the idea of Nemesis, takes is all very personal. Where Sam and others saw Samaritan as a hero of the people, Cyrus saw Nemesis as a man fighting against the establishment. This interesting take seems to get thrown out the window when Cyrus turns back into your traditional bad guy. There is another side that still gets its exploration with the 3rd act plot points, but it still feels like another lost opportunity.
No matter what your prior knowledge of the story is, or your history with superhero flicks, Samaritan might feel like a run-of-the-mill film upon watching it. If this is your feeling, let it play out. There might be some spotty effects. There might be some cliché characters and performances. Just make sure you get to the end and then re-evaluate your thoughts and you’ll find that Samaritan was hiding more than you thought, all along. Samaritan finds its way onto Amazon Prime on Aug. 26th.
Final Grade: B-
Here’s the trailer of the film.