Julius Avery’s Samaritan is a movie that has been sitting on the shelf for a relatively long time. The movie first went into production shortly before the world shut down in March 2020, and well over a year has ticked by following its completion as a proper release strategy has been considered – the ultimate solution being a release on Amazon in late August. That kind of delay shouldn’t always be seen as a bad omen, as one just needs to look at how well things worked out earlier this summer for Joseph Kosinski’s Top Gun: Maverick… but having any Top Gun: Maverick-level expectations for this one would be a mistake. In fact, having any expectations at all going into this plain and predictable superhero drama isn’t advised.
The initiative behind the movie is moderately admirable, as it works to establish its own canon in the popular genre that isn’t based on any powerful IP or pre-existing property, but the execution undermines the approach. It’s drab and narratively repetitive and messy, with poor attempts at world-building that are constantly raising more questions instead of answering them. The most complex development it has to offer is a twist in the third act that anyone can see coming more than an hour before the reveal, and any hunger for seeing Sylvester Stallone in action with superpowers will be left unsatiated by sequences with zero creativity or intensity.
Written by Bragi F. Schut, Samaritan is set in the fictional Granite City, and the exposition dump of a prologue establishes the metropolis as the former home of two super-powered twin brothers – one who chooses the side of evil, going by the name Nemesis, and the other the side of good, named Samaritan. Years after a final, fiery confrontation between the siblings, they are both assumed dead, though rumors persist that Samaritan is still alive and in hiding.
Sam Cleary (Javon 'Wanna' Walton), a 13-year-old kid, is not only one who believes this chatter, but starts to think that he may know who and where Samaritan is. He has suspicions about his neighbor, Joe Smith (Sylvester Stallone), and all but gets full confirmation when he witnesses Joe demonstrate superhero strength and walk away from a violent incident that should have killed him. It’s a hell of a time to make the discovery too, because a dangerous crime boss named Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk) is simultaneously making moves to take on the Nemesis mantle and dismantle the local power grid – the goal being to send Granite City into darkness, chaos and anarchy.
Samaritan doesn’t have anything to add to the superhero genre, and it doesn’t even try.
Working without source material, Samaritan is a movie that has a blue sky opportunity to establish a fresh and exciting canon about a world where two powerful superheroes once battled in the streets of a major city… and yet virtually nothing comes to light in the 100 minute runtime. Sam makes vague reference to the titular hero saving his dad at one point, but that’s about as detailed as the film gets about what it was like to have a metahuman vigilante around and patrolling the streets. Instead, the movie only focuses solely on the loose ideals of the characters, expressed via the protagonist and antagonist, and the night that Samaritan and Nemesis had their big final battle (it becomes laughable how often we see replays of the same bits of flashback footage over and over).
Just as vague as the history of Samaritan and Nemesis is the introduction of the characters’ power set – which is a shame because there are teases of cool elements, but they end up getting underutilized. It’s established that Joe using his powers causes him to overheat to the point that his heart threatens to explode, and after that detail’s introduction, a clock starts counting down to its simple and disappointing return in the third act, where it’s barely allowed to create any dramatic weight. Equally hacky is the sledgehammer that the original Nemesis crafts with his pure hatred for his brother, which is the only element of magic in the movie, and ends up being one of many confusing parts of the third act.
The action in Samaritan is not only rote, but stupid.
The sledgehammer clearly exists in Samaritan because the movie needed a way to even the playing field in the showdown between Joe and Cyrus, which makes sense – but every action bit without it is utterly lame. You’d think that word would get out in the criminal community that the only metahumans in existence are bulletproof, and yet every assault again Joe is basically a variation of A) bad guy shoots a gun at Joe, B) bullets bounce off of Joe, C) Joe grabs/throws/ punches them while keeping things only PG-13-level graphic. It gets dull fast, and Sylvester Stallone’s grunts and charisma-less turn do nothing to buoy the material (unless he’s playing a scene where Joe is angry, he seems totally lost).
In the hunt for silver linings, I suppose Samaritan is lucky than Daniel Espinosa’s Morbius also got delayed until this year, as that will prevent it from being called the worst superhero movie of the 2022. There is definitely room in this genre beyond just the Marvel and DC brands, but that message is lost here with this limp effort.
Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.