Is this the movie to save us from superhero fatigue?
Who is that old guy living across the way from you? Is he really the lonely recluse that you always thought him to be? Or could he be somebody else? Could he be…a superhero?
Chances are, he’s probably just a guy who wants to be left in peace, so before you ask him to rescue your cat from a tree, you might want to consider another option for your poor kitty instead.
But in Samaritan, the movie adaptation of a 2014 graphic novel, young Sam (Javon Walton) is sure that Joe (Sylvester Stallone), the garbage collector living in the apartment building opposite him, is Samaritan, a superhero long thought dead after apparently dying in a blast alongside his villainous twin brother Nemesis 25 years earlier.
Joe insists that he isn’t the now-aged crimefighter but Sam, who is obsessed with Samaritan, isn’t about to leave this hermit-like man alone. After the guy ably saves him from a beating at the hands of a group of thugs, Sam becomes convinced that he really is the hero that once stood on the side of justice for the people living in the impoverished neighbourhoods of Granite City.
So, is Joe a superhero or is he just a guy that wants to live out his senior years in solitude? The answer isn’t immediately obvious but as the story unfolds we begin to realise that Joe isn’t just a normal human being. Not only does he throw tyres around as if they were frisbees, but he lifts cars and jumps great distances too. He also takes on the local crime gang with ease, although his battle against them becomes a little tougher when their leader, Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), steals Nemesis’s mask and magical hammer for muddled reasons that I won’t go into here.
You could be forgiven if you have superhero fatigue as we are now at a point when comic book movies and shows are rarely off our screens, each one trying to out-spectacle the last with big-budget action sequences and expensive special effects. As such, it might be that you are a little wary of Samaritan if you are somebody who has long since tired of the superhero genre. However, this movie is far more grounded than anything the MCU has offered up recently and it is refreshingly short of the explosive action sequences that we have now become used to.
This isn’t to say there is no action but the movie is less about bad guys getting their butts kicked and more about the growing relationship between Sam and Joe; a bond which gives the movie its heart. The movie isn’t saturated with CGI and other special effects either and this is kind of a good thing as the quality of the effects in Samaritan isn’t always great. A scene where Joe is pummelled by a car looks convincing enough but in a later scene, where de-ageing effects are used to show us the younger version of his character, it’s clear that more work needed to be done to make this fresher-faced incarnation look more believable.
In terms of the story, the movie is a bit hit and miss too. When the focus is on Joe and Sam’s relationship, the plotting is interesting enough. It manages to grip the attention because Stallone and Walton both turn in decent performances in their respective roles.
Unfortunately, the movie veers off course whenever the cartoonish bad guys take centre stage and this is partly because of the villainous stereotypes that they fall into. So, while Sam and Joe are more than just one-dimensional characters – Sam is a superhero-obsessed young kid that is forced to grow up when he falls in with the wrong crowd; Joe is a reluctant hero with a mysterious backstory – Cyrus and his underlings have little in the way of character depth. And as their motivations are thinly-drawn, the narrative also takes a bit of a stumble whenever it focuses on their plans.
But despite this imbalance, the movie isn’t a bad one. Stallone is enjoyable to watch and proves once again that he is a better actor than many people give him credit for, and Walton gives a sensitive performance as the fatherless kid desperately in need of a hero to look up to.
The central mystery surrounding Joe’s real identity is one that genuinely intrigues and despite the assumption that he probably is the hero that everybody assumed was dead, the movie manages to engage because it teases us with clues before the final reveal.
And as Granite City looks like a real lived-in place, far removed from the fantastical world of Tim Burton’s Gotham, it’s easy to get drawn into the plight of Sam and the other residents who are living on an estate marred with poverty, crime, and low-quality housing.
These are the movie’s strengths and because it’s not as bombastic and CGI- heavy as other comic book flicks, this might be the antidote you need if you want something a little more grounded. It’s doubtful that it will be a franchise starter (I will probably be forced to eat my words at a later date) but as a standalone movie it largely works, even if the ending does leave us with a few more questions before the closing credits start to roll.
I enjoyed Samaritan and if you’re looking for a superhero movie that is grittier and more realistic than most (as realistic as a movie featuring super-powered weapons and a guy with incredible abilities can be), then you might enjoy this too. It doesn’t quite escape the comic book tropes we have become used to – maniacal bad guys, a big climactic showdown – but it has some interesting things to say about morality and the line between good and evil, so it’s not as conventional as other movies in the over-saturated superhero genre.
Read More: Samaritan Ending Explained
Verdict - 6.5/10