Samaritan Synopsis: A young boy (Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton) learns that a superhero (Sylvester Stallone) thought to have gone missing after an epic battle twenty years ago may still be around.
In a poverty-ridden city on the precipitous of collapsing, a down-on-his-luck youth discovers the presence of a once-famed superhero in Samaritan. Superheroes are all the rage in today’s cinematic climate as Marvel and DC engage in relentless competition for the audience’s interest. Despite the genre’s reign over the zeitgeist, few cape features outside these well-entrenched trademarks rarely take flight onscreen.
Based on a niche graphic novel series, Samaritan dawns the spandex of a decidedly different outfit. Overlord director Julius Avery infuses real-world textures and old-school action movie flavoring into his story of a caped figure’s reemergence sparking hope in a decaying society. The final product may adhere too comfortably to standard-issue formula, but Samaritan still executes its approach with gusto and sparks of creative life.
I love that Samaritan feels like a relic from an entirely different era. Boasting a dystopian world embedded in real-world connotations and playful flourishes, Samaritan is more akin to 80s/90s staples like Robocop and Demolition Man than the big-budget bombast of modern superhero offerings. Avery’s skilled direction also reignites this throwback sensibility with technical aplomb. Each grimey street corner and defunct building helps set a distinctive sense of place, while the director’s creative eye helps enhance the lower-budget action setpieces into lively clashes.
An action throwback fits right in star Sylvester Stallone’s wheelhouse. As an aging nomad masking his super-power past, Stallone equips his usual rugged charm and aching vulnerabilities under the character’s macho persona. The real star here is Euphoria breakout Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton as the wistful Sam. In a role that could feel oppressive routine in the wrong hands, Walton’s luminous presence and sturdy dramatic chops infuse life into the character’s standard design.
Under the surface of Samaritan’s superhero pastiche, the film boasts surprisingly worthwhile ruminations. Screenwriter Bragi F. Schut cleverly twists the lionized legacies of the Samaritan and his oh-so-cleverly named foe Nemesis into lingering myths that grab ahold of the community. Some gleam onto the heroic bravery of the Samaritan, while others view themselves as sinister forces bound to Nemesis’ villainy. The approach allows Schut to touch upon the mythologization of superheroes as modern figures of morality similar to storied gods and deities. A welcomed, if not somewhat predictable, third-act twist also adds much-needed realism to that concept.
If only the Samaritan could follow through with its ambitious platitudes. Schut introduces his interesting ideas before favoring the generic plot structure of his screenplay. The narrative, while effective, can’t help feeling like a familiar rehash of so many other superior films. This choice ultimately hurts the third act of Samaritan the most, with the film deluding into an array of busy action setpieces that forgets its characters and intriguing undertones (the criminally underrated Archenemy was able to realize a similar idea with more weight).
Even if the film eventually compromises, Samaritan provides a fresh perspective on the crowded superhero genre. I hope studios continue to take more risks with the genre if it’s going to remain the supreme power in Hollywood.
Samaritan is now available on Amazon Prime.