It’s no easy feat to make an original superhero movie these days. In case you hadn’t noticed, they are everywhere — and with the threat of ‘superhero fatigue’ ever looming among audiences, it takes a lot to make something feel fresh. Samaritan, based on the 2014 graphic novel from Mythos Comics, certainly leans into its heritage; a heavily-saturated semi-animated prologue sets the story up in defiantly comic-book terms, a story about an old-fashioned battle of good versus evil — that old chestnut. It’s a bright, colourful way to start, but it leaves a nagging feeling of familiarity.
That preamble establishes a battle waged 25 years earlier between two superpowered brothers who became sworn enemies and — so the story goes — killed each other in the process. But rumours persist that one of them, the good-hearted Samaritan (Sylvester Stallone), is still alive, rumours fuelled by conspiracy theorist-type Albert Casier (Martin Starr, now in his fifth superhero movie), and gobbled up by the starry-eyed Sam (Euphoria’s Javon Walton).
It’s from Sam’s perspective that the story unfolds: a plucky, precocious kid who still believes in superheroes in a time and place when crime is on the rise and people are living on the breadline. Sam gets swept up in the wrong crowd, falling in with some local thugs who you can tell are bad guys because they have tattoos and alternative hairstyles. Chief among them is mob leader Cyrus, played by villain specialist Pilou Asbæk, who seeks Nemesis’s magic glowing hammer for his own nefarious means.
This is a superhero film that warmly embraces cheese, making it feel something from the ’90s
If that all sounds fairly on-the-nose (for reference: Samaritan = goodie, Nemesis = baddie), well, it is. Despite pre-release marketing promising a “darker” take on the genre, this is a superhero film that warmly embraces cheese, making it feel something from the ’90s, before screen superheroes came of age and filmmakers started making considerations for adult audiences — something plucked from the pre-Feige, pre-Nolan, pre-Snyder era.
There are some nice performances in here that keep it from being a total disappointment: Stallone is good fun as the gruff, grumbling old hero, living like a “troglodyte” who collects old junk to crush with his mighty hands, before reluctantly shuffling out of retirement. Walton is decent, too, giving his character the same sense of giddy wish-fulfilment that made Shazam so charming, a hero for teenagers to see themselves in. But the package as a whole feels slightly out of time, an attempt at riding the superhero wave without fully understanding what made that wave successful. Good Samaritan? Not quite.