Samaritan review: Sylvester Stallone bows to superhero pressure

Javon Walton (left) and Sylvester Stallone (right) in Samaritan
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Sylvester Stallone fully embraces the world of superhero films – but Samaritan has some distinction.

Samaritan is a superhero film. We know this from the off, courtesy of a terrifically-stylised credits sequence, where it’s explained that some shit has happened. A hero called Samaritan bought it at the hands of a rival called Nemesis we’re told, and this is to the movie’s credit, stylistically rendered in a mix of comic book drawing and live action.

It was almost enough to blind me to the exposition dump going on. It was certainly enough to make me ponder if this was that Demolition Man sequel we’ve been teased.

Spoiler: no. But it does have Sylvester Stallone in it, generally looking like he’s in a bad mood.


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Anyway, fast forward 20 years and we meet a young boy called Sam Cleary. Played really well by Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton, we learn that Sam is basically a future Facebook conspiracist. He doesn’t believe Samaritan is dead, and rather than spending his childhood riding his bike and being bullied at school like the rest of us, he writes his Samaritan ideas down. Mind you, he’s got enough on his plate. His mum, played by Dascha Palanco, is struggling to make ends meet and works round the clock. The threat of eviction hangs over them. Sam finds himself alone, as his mum works the jobs she needs to try and keep them going

In this same neighbourhood is Sylvester Stallone in a padded coat that looks quite comfy. He’s got a beard, a tired look, and a penchant for saying ‘a-hole’, in case this needed to get a PG-13 rating. We know he’s an everyperson like us because he puts bin bags out and rides the bus. Where he differs from me personally is in having a lot of strength and massive scars on his back. There’s a history here, and it’s tallying with what Sam is theorising.

This is early exposition stuff – Freaks & Geeks alumnus Martin Starr pops in to top the film up when it needs more – and it’s all perfectly efficient. What’s more, early doors I found myself rooting for Sam. He might help the local gang try and rob the local store, but I understood why. I can’t, hand on heart, suggest this’ll be Liz Truss’ favourite film, but by grounding the story in working class society, it feels notably distinct from, well, multi-millionaire Stallone getting in a bad mood on Instagram over his children’s inheritance.

In fact, it’s terrific to see Stallone taking on another role like this. He does working class, world-weary protagonists really rather well, from the earlier Rockys through to Cop Land and, of course, the arm-wrestling trucker of Over The Top. For the first chunk of the film at least, he’s back there (not arm wrestling), building up a character and relying on his presence rather than zingers to get us invested in him.


Samaritan was originally, as I understand it, envisaged for a cinema release, and director Julius Avery – who helmed 2018’s Overlord – has clearly approached it as such too. And for the first half at least, I found myself drawn in. There’s a real effort here to put people we can root for at the heart of this, characters who the world is chewing up and spitting out. There’s a reason for them being who they are and where they are, and the film’s early work is very much interested in this.

I also like that it’s got a RoboCop arcade cabinet in it too, although I did get a little sad when they smashed up a CRT monitor at one stage. Those things were expensive.

As the film progresses, the weight of it moves. Avery’s lens focused more on its older lead character than its younger one, and that’s where the air starts to come out of it a little. Mind you, by the end, it’s pretty much ruptured. The small, interesting film that happens to be a superhero movie goes big, with explosions so clearly digital they look like they’ve failed the Call Of Duty exam. I found myself being taken out of things, just as the stakes were going up.

It’s something that a film such as Kick-Ass just about cleared. The parallels between the two are light, but along with SamaritanKick-Ass works hard to build characters, and ones that are down to earth enough that it matters when things are ramped up. What Kick-Ass did, that Samaritan doesn’t, was keep its feet just about on the ground when it got to the final act. And in the case of Samaritan, it’s frustrating to see such an otherwise engaging film stumble there. It seemed – to an outsider like me – an obvious pitfall, and the film’s narrative runs right into it.

But still: give me this over another CG-carved, character-light, bash ’em up. Samaritan has its issues, certainly, but it also has something. That I ended up frustrated with it was in large part down to it got me so interested in the first place. Given how well trodden parts of Samaritan is, that’s not an insignificant feat.

Samaritan is out now on Amazon Prime Video.

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