You’re never too old to play a superhero. That’s the main takeaway from Samaritan, the new film starring 76-year-old Sylvester Stallone as an aging former vigilante with special powers who has quietly settled into retirement. Except, as such former Stallone characters as Rocky and Rambo have proved time and time again, retirement doesn’t always come easy for former warriors.
At first glance, Joe Smith (Stallone) wouldn’t seem to be the aged version of Samaritan, the former protector of Granite City, who disappeared 25 years earlier after fatally dispatching his evil arch-nemesis, named…Nemesis. (Screenwriter Bragi F. Schut, who later adapted his screenplay into a series of graphic novels, clearly isn’t too concerned about coming up with imaginative names for his characters). Joe, a garbageman, shuffles around the dangerous, run-down urban environs sporting a heavy grey beard and perpetual hoodie, clearly not wanting to be bothered by anyone.
The Bottom Line
Will do in a superhero pinch.
That desire to be left alone gets thwarted when Joe rescues the teenage Sam (a very effective Javon “Wanna” Walton, Euphoria) from being beaten by a gang of savage youths. After witnessing Joe dispatch the much younger attackers with brutal efficiency, Sam becomes convinced that his benefactor is actually the superhero who supposedly died in a warehouse fire in his final battle with Nemesis. He becomes even more convinced after spying Joe, who happens to live across the street from him, taking off his shirt to reveal deep burn scars across his broad back.
Despite his curmudgeonly instincts, Joe eventually takes a shine to the worshipful Sam, especially after he meets the boy’s sympathetic single mother (Dascha Polanco, In the Heights), who’s struggling to raise him on her meager nurse’s salary. Not long afterward, the gang takes revenge on Joe by running him over with a car after spotting him on the street.
“Are you okay?” asks Sam, who has witnessed the attack. “Fuck, no!” Joe replies, in an example of the film’s occasional irreverent wit. Another imaginative touch comes with Joe’s method of healing himself after being seriously injured, which apparently causes his body to dangerously overheat. He cools himself down by scarfing down copious amounts of ice cream that he has stored for that purpose in his fridge.
Joe eventually gets into more serious scuffles with the gang, led by the evil Cyrus (Pilous Asbaek of Game of Thrones, born to play villains), who idolizes Nemesis and is determined to bring down Granite City. Not that there seems to be much to bring down, since, thanks to the hellish production design of Christopher Glass and Greg Berry, the gritty environs make Gotham City look glamorous by comparison.
Director Julius Avery (Son of a Gun, Overlord) strains for a dark aesthetic, but what he achieves visually is undercut by the unintentional silliness of much of the proceedings and such hackneyed lines as Joe advising an adversary to “Have a blast” just before slipping him a bomb. There is, however, a clever plot twist in the final act that, while ultimately not mattering all that much, does provide a welcome jolt.
Stallone provides just the right amount of world-weary gravitas and deadpan humor to put over the hokey material. And he still has the requisite imposing physicality to make the sight of his character beating up men a quarter of his age fairly convincing. While the film premiering on Amazon Prime Video proves a lesser entry in the drastically overcrowded superhero genre, it could be the beginning of a minor franchise for the veteran star.
Production companies: Balboa Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Distributor: Amazon Prime Video
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Javon “Wanna” Walton, Pilou Asbaek, Dascha Polanco, Moises Arias
Director: Julius Avery
Screenwriter: Bragi F. Schut
Producers: Sylvester Stallone, Braden Aftergood
Executive producers: Bragi F. Schut, David Kern, Adam Rosenberg, Guy Riedel
Director of photography: David Ungaro
Production designers: Christopher Glass, Greg Berry
Editors: Pete Beaudreau, Matt Evans
Composers: Jed Kurzelk, Kevin Kiner
Costume designer: Kelli Jones
Casting: Richard Hicks
1 hour 41 minutes