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‘Samaritan’ Review: Sylvester Stallone as a Comic-Book Superhero? In this Bare-Bones Caper, He’s Amusing but No Marvel

The action star goes full fantasy avenger in a watchable but chintzy slice of graphic-novel hellfire.

Samaritan Movie Review
©MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection

There’s a standard road map for an actor like Sylvester Stallone — at 76, still looking good, but no longer with a body made of rock(y) — to enter the comic-book movie zone, and that’s for him to play a supporting figure like the righteous Stakar Ogord in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” or to voice King Shark in “The Suicide Squad.” It’s all likable nostalgic novelty casting. But what if Stallone, who in his way has played indomitable superheroes for decades (think “Rambo” and its sequels or “The Expendables” and its sequels), wants to go full avenger and portray a total comic-book demigod?

He’ll star in a chintzy slice of hellfire like “Samaritan,” based on the Mythos Comics graphic novel that was published in 2014. It’s set in Granite City, an everyday dystopia where Stallone lugs his body around with a reluctant roughneck shamble. He plays an aging crime-fighter-in-hiding in a movie that, as written by Bragi F. Schut (who also wrote the comic) and directed by Julius Avery, offers a conventional but downbeat, minimally plotted but maximally incendiary variation on bare-bones superhero action.

In an opening-credits prologue that’s very…molten, a boy narrator explains to us that years ago a battle was waged between Samaritan and Nemesis, twin brothers who were sworn enemies. Samaritan became a superhero; Nemesis, consumed by vengeance, became a supervillain, with “a hammer that he poured all his hate and rage into. It was the only thing that could destroy Samaritan.” The two had a fight to the death at a power station, where both perished in an apocalyptic blast. “This is the story we’ve all been told,” the boy tells us. “But I believe Samaritan is still alive.”

The boy, Sam (Javon “Wanna” Walton), who is 13 and lives with his mother (Dascha Polanco) in a squalid housing project, believes it all the more when he spots Joe Smith (Stallone), a garbageman who lives in the building across the way. Stallone, in an El Greco beard like the one he first tried out in the 1981 thriller “Nighthawks,” sports a scar that curves around his right eye and scars crisscrossing his back. He wears a hoodie and a flannel shirt under a dirty tan down jacket, giving him the superhero-as-ordinary-prole mystique that Bruce Willis had in “Unbreakable.”

Joe, as we learn, is impervious to bullets, knife wounds, or being hit by a car (though it takes a minute or two for him to flex and straighten out his broken old limbs). But he’s basically Stallone’s idea of a comic-book crime-fighter: a super-bruiser. He’s like The Thing with a slurry Method growl. Joe has to scarf tubs of ice cream to cool down his literally overheated body. (The ad line for the movie should be “He’s Not Superman. He’s Super Mad.”)

Stallone, however, is also a bit impassive here — in his acting, and in Joe’s actions. Joe likes to rescue old pieces of junk like toasters and fix them up, because he identifies with them; he’s a relic who needs a little TLC. He’s got a good reason for not wanting to show himself, living as a “troglodyte” in a crummy flat. But when he spies Sam being bullied by gang punks (led by the charismatic Moises Arias, who’s like a Dickensian street urchin with tats and purple dreads), Joe’s instinct is to protect him. And when Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), the local junkyard sociopath, attempts to revive the mantle of Nemesis, complete with that hammer and a horde of “revolutionary” followers — the film’s bid for “Joker” relevance, though this mob looks like something out of an inferior “Purge” sequel — Sam is caught between good and evil father figures, which kind of lays out Joe’s destiny for him.

There’s a slight camp element to how Stallone, in “Samaritan,” will face a warehouse full of thugs and basically go at them as he would in an “Expendables” film, pummeling them with fists of fury. In this case, though, a body he smashes will go flying 20 feet into a wall, which makes the fight scenes kind of play like “The Expendables” with helium. Cyrus, with a complicated beard and frosted hair shaved into a mohawk fade that reveals a snake tattoo, is played by Pilou Asbæk, from “Game of Thrones,” with a manner of jaunty psychosis. He’s like Guy Fieri’s evil sibling as a renegade out of “Mad Max.” The vehicles, too, look like “Mad Max” rides: vintage muscle cars painted over in dull black. “Samaritan” is basic enough that it often seems like a video-game film in which someone forgot to add the CGI. But the movie builds to a very good twist, and Stallone, in his way, brings a vibe to it, complete with an ’80s kiss-off line (“Have a blast!”) delivered in a growl so deliberate it practically etches itself onto the scenery.

‘Samaritan’ Review: Sylvester Stallone as a Comic-Book Superhero? In this Bare-Bones Caper, He’s Amusing but No Marvel

<p>Reviewed online, Aug. 23, 2022. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 99 MIN.</p>

  • Production: <p>A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures release of a Balboa Production. Producers: Sylvester Stallone, Braden Aftergood. Executive producers: Bragi F. Schut, David Kern, Adam Rosenberg, Guy Riedel.</p>
  • Crew: <p>Director: Julius Avery. Screenplay: Bragi F. Schut. Camera: David Ungaro. Editors: Pete Beaudreau, Matt Evans. Music: Kevin Kiner, Jed Kurzel.</p>
  • With: <p>Sylvester Stallone, Javon “Wanna” Walton, Pilou Asbæk, Dascha Polanco, Sophia Tatum, Moises Arias, Martin Starr, Jared Odrick.</p>