MPAA Rating: PG-13
CNS Rating: Unrated at the time of this review
Reel Rating: 2 out of 5 reels
(Disclaimer: Spoilers ahead!)
The superhero genre is so over saturated that an original film must bring a supernaturally compelling spin just to be noticed. Amazon Prime’s Samaritan attempts this feat, in the words of graphic novel author Bragi Schut, with “a dark, new take” and a last-minute plot twist. That Samaritan, a PG-13 film, might be considered “darker” than the usual fare is laughable. Batman Returns was darker thirty years ago, not to mention Sin City or The Killing Joke. And the plot twist, while admittedly intriguing, isn’t revolutionary. The result is a mediocre film by solely cinematic standards and, frankly, pure garbage compared to the slew of established franchises.
The first mistake is that nearly half the story is told via exposition in the first five minutes, even though all the information could have been organically gleaned through the rest of the narrative. Granite City (aka Gotham, aka Metropolis) is a city in crisis, with rising crime rates and unrest. The villain Nemesis seeks to throw the city into further chaos while Samaritan, his twin brother, saves people and fights his sibling. Their powers are essentially those of Mr. Incredible – super strength and indestructibility. In a final showdown, Nemesis attempts to destroy Granite City’s main power station and kill Samaritan with a magic hammer. Evenly matched, the plant goes up in flames, killing both … or so we are told.
Twenty years later, Granite City is still facing Detroit levels of urban deterioration. Sam (Javon Walton) is a spunky ten-year-old boy convinced that Samaritan is still alive. When Joe (Sylvester Stallone), a local garbage collector, rescues him from a gang of bullies, he suspects the disgruntled hobo might be the hero in hiding. His hopes are confirmed dramatically when Joe is hit by a speeding car and comes out unscathed. The timing couldn’t be better as local gang leader Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk) steals Nemesis’ mask and assumes his identity. He starts a violent uprising against the city, leading to an inevitable clash with the now much older metahuman.
Samaritan is, above all else, painfully dull. It has stretches of forced dialogue and silly subplots. The action sequences take forever and mostly involve random thugs shooting frivolously at Joe. (Once it’s been established that bullets can’t stop a man, why keep shooting at him for the next hour?) The narrative is a Frankenstein patchwork taken from better superhero films, such as Split, Man of Steel, and Hancock. Thematically, Cyrus is a carbon coy of Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, leading a Bolshevik revolution by using a deep voice and wearing a black mask. The only thing that slightly raises the bar is a decent plot twist, which I will now (warning!) reveal in order to save you from a viewing.
At the climax, as the central characters battle, it is revealed that Joe is actually Nemesis – not Samaritan. Joe tells Sam that Samaritan had the opportunity to kill him but spared his life, only to die in the fire himself. This inspired Joe/Nemesis to give up his life of crime and atone in anonymity. “You think there are good and bad people,” he tells Sam, “but there isn’t. Everyone is both.” There is, of course, truth to this observation. Everyone is born with original sin, but all are capable of becoming good through the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. Some of the greatest saints were the greatest of sinners in their youth, while, on the other hand, many evil men began their reigns of terror by trying to right legitimate wrongs. Unfortunately, this message isn’t fleshed-out well and is undermined by the brutal and sometimes unnecessary ways Joe kills his victims.
The film ends with a “noble lie” of Sam telling the media that Samaritan has returned, giving hope to a failing city. It would have been better to tell the truth: no man is automatically damned, thus no city is fated for ruin. There are a few nuggets of potential in Samaritan, but it’s weighed down by shoddy and predictable storytelling. Better stick with the Good Samaritan; He will save you in the end.
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In the first few minutes of the movie after the robbery, the camera pans to a large neon “Jesus Saves” sign on a really humongous cone style roof. Underneath this sign you might expect to see a cross but you won’t, what you will see is a constructed symbol of Nemesis…is this to mock Christ? Or, as I suspect, to encourage a subconscious negative link between Jesus and the bad guy.
In the last few years I have been really paying attention to Christian symbolism in movies and the purposeful negative inferences to create anti-Christian sentiment. This is but one of many examples.
From all you tell this movie is so bad that it’s funny. Thanks for the warning and the 10 or so dollars that I saved.