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Samaritan ★★



Director: Julius Avery

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Walton, Martin Starr, Pilou Asbæk

Release: August 26, 2022 (UK)

Superhero films dominate both the big and small screen at the moment; however, this doesn’t mean they’re all alike, with The Boys and Peacemaker proving there is room for darker, more unconventional stories to be told in a tried and tested genre. The latest superhero film is the Amazon original Samaritan starring Sylvester Stallone in the titular role of a presumed dead hero who resurfaces after 25 years. Alongside Stallone, much of the film is from the perspective of Jason Walton’s Sam Cleary, a neighbour of Joe Smith/Samaritan, obsessed with finding out if his idol really did perish in a fight with his rival Nemesis all those years prior.

Samaritan acts as a prism for reassessing excellent and evil. The labels we traditionally prescribe our heroes and villains make it clear that good people have to do bad things. Stallone’s hero is a gruff, world-weary and downbeat one jaded from his isolated existence and just scraping by. Through his relationship with Sam, he begins to reembrace his position in the world, just as a new threat emerges.

Game of Thrones Pilou Asbæk is the main antagonist. While he looks menacing enough, the motives of him and his organisation are pretty thinly sketched with a rushed first act introducing us to the group, with Sam initially unwillingly falling in among them. We never get a sense of exactly the end goal for the group beyond causing chaos, and the characters feel underdeveloped.

On paper, the plot and various twists should work well. Still, there feels like a lack in execution with several twists predictable and delivered in a haphazard manner, feeling out of place and without the punch they should provide. Ultimately it feels as if the film is unsure what it wants to be, and this is frustrating as there are moments of genuine promise and Stallone’s likeable and engaging presence makes it a watchable affair.

So much is the focus on Sam that even the character development for Samaritan/Joe feels like it could be explored in more depth. Surprisingly the film doesn’t examine the peak years of the rivals, perhaps due to not wanting to heavily de-age Stallone. There are a few short sequences back to their final encounter, but nothing beyond that.

The first third of the film revolves almost entirely around Sam, so Joe’s eventual introduction is welcome, but this does leave the second two acts feeling much faster-paced and lacking an emotional core. This feels like a strong showcase for Stallone’s skillset. He’s clearly at home in this more gritty, urban Superhero world, and the world-building is to be credited for making this feel like a dangerous, explosive city that could come off its hinges at any moment. The action is mainly impressive, showing the brute force of Samaritan and how easily he can dispatch his opponents.

Samaritan is worth watching for its world-building, building a genuine sense of threat and menace as a society on tenterhooks. Fans of Sylvester Stallone will be pleased to see him on form, delivering an enjoyable late-career action role worthy of Rocky himself. It is a shame that the tone and pacing of the film let down some of its stronger elements with a rushed conclusion and some questionable narrative decisions, with a first act that sits uneasily with the rest of the film.

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