Sylvester Stallone fails to revive the superhero genre with Samaritan

“Originally slated as a theatrical release, Samaritan never overcomes its small-screen ambitions, even though the effects and star power outweigh some expectations about straight-to-VOD content.”

Samaritan, a superhero adventure starring Sylvester Stallone, suffers from an identity crisis. What audience is this film intended for? Most signs point to being geared toward kids. Our protagonist, Sam (Javon Wanna Walton), is a naive and bullied child who dreams of the return of a superhero called the Samaritan. Through his eyes, the world looks black and white: some people are good, and others are bad. Growing up with a single mom who can barely make rent and in a neighbourhood rife with violence and gangs, he imagines a world where a masked hero will return and fix his town and life. 

Without sounding like a puritan, the movie features swearing and disturbing violence for a film with a childlike mentality. Samaritan takes a dark turn beyond the framing and thematics. In one sequence, Stallone is brutally hit and flipped by a car, which Sam later admits haunts his dreams. It’s difficult to reconcile the film’s tone with how simple-minded its message and characterizations are. Too basic for adults and too brutal for children, it’s very unclear who this movie was made for. Even teens will likely find this movie too infantile for their tastes.

In many ways, Samaritan is better than expected. It’s competently made and at least attempts to break away from some preconceptions. Stallone is Stallone, for better or worse, and his stiffness serves his character’s aloof unwillingness to participate in society. Less grey than your average 2022 movie, it feels like a slightly more generic Robert Rodriguez Spy Kids adventure. Without ever exceeding expectations, it manages to be competent and, at the very least, passingly original. 

Unfortunately, Javon Wanna Walton doesn’t quite hit the mark as a compelling child actor. He’s made a name for himself in two shows I haven’t watched, Euphoria and Umbrella Academy, and maybe he’s good there, but here his line reading is often wooden and stilted. It could very well be that the script is holding him back, unsure of reconciling his raised by the streets wildness with his more sheltered naivety. The character itself is both too childish and not childish enough. 

The rest of the story is only fleetingly admirable for not being a Marvel or DC property because it doesn’t bring anything new to the superhero genre. It plays with many expected tropes and delivers predictably. The film’s major twist can be spotted a mile away, and the villains lack real gravitas. If this was intended as a children’s film, that isn’t necessarily bad — it helps sell the message that all people are capable of good and evil and that we have choices to make to determine our fate. Narratively speaking, though, it’s largely unsatisfying. 

Initially slated to be released in theatres in 2020, the film has been pushed back so often that it seems the studio decided to take the loss and just release it online. Watching the movie on a small screen makes it difficult to imagine it as a big-screen movie. Even though the effects and star power outweigh some expectations about straight-to-VOD content, Samaritan never overcomes its small-screen ambitions. It’s unremarkable and ultimately very forgettable. ■

Sylvester Stallone fails to revive the superhero genre with Samaritan

Samaritan is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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