Samaritan and Nemesis were super-powered twin brothers who went down dramatically different paths after their parents were killed. Samaritan served and protected the people of Granite City. Driven by fury and revenge, Nemesis fought against law and order. The two became sworn enemies which culminated in an epic battle ending in the deaths of both brothers. The loss of their superhero now hangs over the city like a shroud.
That’s the gist of the opening setup for the new movie “Samaritan”, a superhero action film but not in the tradition sense. In fact, you could call “Samaritan” an anti-superhero movie with the way it gleefully tosses aside both the tropes and expectations commonly attached to modern day superhero flicks. To its credit, “Samaritan” has its own ideas, and there’s enough originality in the story to make this feel surprisingly fresh. It also has a welcomed edge to it – something that caught me off guard.
Julius Avery directs from a script by Bragi F. Schut, and the film is produced by Sylvester Stallone’s Balboa Productions. The story follows 13-year-old Sam (Javon Walton), a Samaritan super-fan who soon begins to suspect that his neighbor, a grizzled, blue-collar sanitation worker named Joe Smith (Stallone), is his beloved (and long thought dead) hero. To no surprise the truth eventually comes out, but it’s the path to that reveal that ended up being far more entertaining than I anticipated.
One of the first things you immediately notice is the impressive inner-city world-building. The poverty-stricken Granite City is on the verge of collapse. Union strikes and unemployment has hit the urban areas the hardest with homelessness and crime on the rise. Avery captures the decaying city with remarkable detail. The weathered concrete and asphalt; the rust and grime; the graffiti covered walls and the trash collecting along the streets. Avery gives us an authentic sense of place.
This is the world Sam lives in with his struggling single mother (Dascha Polanco). She works long hours at low-paying jobs just to pay their rent. In the meantime Sam runs around with his buddy Jace (Abraham Clinkscales) stripping copper wire out of old abandoned buildings for a few bucks. But when he gets in with a local hood named Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), Sam learns there’s no such thing as easy money.
Sam, who has bought into the theory that Samaritan actually survived his epic fight with Nemesis and is secretly living among them, Begins taking notice of Joe who lives in an adjacent apartment building. After watching him manhandle a pack of thugs, Sam becomes convinced that Joe is none other than Granite City’s lost hero. While the two develop an unexpected friendship, Cyrus connects with his inner Nemesis and hatches a plan to carry out his super-powered idol’s ultimate plan – plunge Granite City into anarchy and chaos in the name of “returning the power to the people”.
And like that the pieces are in play for the bulk of the story which bops along at a fun and energetic pace. Stallone gives a solid performance and slides seamlessly into his role. His tired eyes and deep growl fits his frustrated, world-weary character. But we also get hints of a buried softer side, specifically in Joe’s scenes with Sam. Best of all, their scenes together aren’t what we’re used to getting. Rather than the usual cloying, superficial mush, this is a kid/adult friendship that feels organic, both in how it begins and grows.
The eventual action beats are done pretty well, using a mix of the 76-year-old Stallone, stunt doubles, and some decent CGI. Like much of the movie, the action has grit, but it’s not over-the-top or excessively brutal. And as most things, it’s done in a way that fits well with the story. As far as the villain goes, Asbæk has an appearance that’s a cross between a cartoon and Kiefer Sutherland from “The Lost Boys”. But minus a couple of goofy chest-pounding moments, he makes for a good baddie. And he too is a nice fit for this ‘superhero movie in name only’ feature. One that nicely separates itself from all the others in the genre. Yes, it’s a little corny in a few spots, but it has its boots planted in the real world. And it has a few nice surprises that turned out to be icing on the cake. “Samaritan” premieres today on Amazon Prime Video.