Sylvester Stallone is now entering his fifth decade of being an action movie star. Yep, FIFTH decade. That’s a lot of experience in kicking butt! Of course, over such a long career, critical and commercial success will come and go. However, it says a lot that he is still steadily leading action films.
Now that Stallone is in his 70s, watching his physical exertions onscreen has a new layer. Samaritan makes use of that to a degree few other films have. Stallone plays a type of role that’s new to him: superhero. (Yes, he appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but his character didn’t have any powers. Neither did Judge Dredd. And that’s only his voice as King Shark in The Suicide Squad.) Though the film is watchable in many ways, Samaritan struggles under the weight of a mediocre script.
“Maybe these old things deserve a second chance.”
Twenty-five years ago, Granite City had hero Samaritan and villain Nemesis, who both died in a fire fighting each other. There are many who believe that Samaritan survived. One of them is 13-year-old Sam (Javon “Wanna” Walton), and he also thinks his reclusive neighbor Joe Smith (Stallone) is Samaritan. At the same time, violent and unstable gang leader Cyrus (Pilou Asbaek) decides he’s going to make himself the new Nemesis in the city with no one to stop him. Or so he thinks.
The story has elements that provide a lot of potential. The details surrounding Samaritan and Nemesis are interesting and could’ve proven to be fertile ground for, well, MORE. The whole gang world examined here has a gritty feel that is suited to visuals. But the characters populating it are more caricatures than well-rounded individuals.
The biggest problem with the screenplay, however, is the simplistic way the plot progresses from scene to scene. It feels like some story substance was forgotten. No one but Sam has noticed anything unusual about Joe in all those years? Cyrus bribes one cop, so we’re supposed to believe that’s why there is no law enforcement pursuing him? Why do henchmen always have to continue to waste their bullets when they know they aren’t hurting the hero? Things like that.
“What you’re doing is right.”
These flaws are a shame when weighed against the few moments when the script’s themes are highlighted just right. Such as when Cyrus insists that Nemesis was “punching up” with his crimes, while Samaritan was just a “cop for the rich.” This also applies to a plot twist that comes during the film’s final act, even though it’s predictable.
Any perceptive viewer may be able to figure it out if they’re paying close enough attention to the opening sequence recounting Samaritan and Nemesis’ history. But the moment of the reveal is still kind of fun. You know, that “I knew it!” feeling, when you wondered about something and turned out to be right. That’s always nice.
Stallone clearly still has an ease with fight choreography. This role uses his age as part of the storytelling, and it doesn’t require much more than physical command. I also enjoyed Walton’s performance, and the rapport between him and Stallone works. I also cared about Sam and Joe all the way through, the way we, as viewers, are supposed to.
On the other hand, Cyrus is not distinctive enough as a villain to make the film better. He goes around doing horrible things, but he never truly makes the audience fear him. And his group of punks doesn’t really make an impression. That seems to be the overall problem — Samaritan just doesn’t have a strong enough script to support the successful bits.
3 stars out of 5
Samaritan is now streaming on Prime Video.