Sylvester Stallone has spent much of the last decade saying goodbye to his iconic characters, passing the torch from Rocky Balboa to the next generation in Creed and having John Rambo literally go off into the sunset in Rambo: Last Blood. At the same time, he does not seem entirely satisfied with this potential end: he brought Rocky back to Creed IIand promised Rambo to keep fighting last blood. Amazon Video’s Aging Superhero Movie Samaritan looks a bit like a “If you can’t beat them, join them” bet, designed to continue the trend. Stallone has run out of classic, mostly human characters whose stories he can sum up, but now he has a new one: an altered, Stallone-y version of a late-stage superhero in what appears to be the final act. of her career.
It’s a bigger, more personalized role than Stallone’s recent smaller roles in 2021 The Suicide Squad and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 for superhero team specialist James Gunn. It’s probably unfair to ask what Gunn could have done with it. Samaritanbut it’s hard not to wonder, because the film is such a disheartening mishmash of good ideas, theft of better films, and clumsy direction.
The premise has an appealing directness, presented in an illustrated prologue: Granite City was once the home of two brothers with superhuman strength and stamina, nicknamed Samaritan and (sigh) Nemesis. Samaritan saved people in the city, while his brother apparently chose “Nemesis” as his supervillain name. Their conflict ended violently, though Samaritan left behind a legacy of devoted and hopeful fans like young Sam (Javon Walton). Sam noticed that “Joe Smith” (Stallone), a loner who lives in the building across the street, seems oddly strong and resilient for an older man. When Joe battles local bullies, Sam begins to wonder: Could this be the superhero he’s been looking for?
At least Samaritan cradles outside of the Marvel/DC playbook. (He’s derived from an original script that was converted into an obscure comic book en route to the screen.) The quiet, indestructible guy played by a Planet Hollywood back-up wearing an everyday hoodie recalls Unbreakable and his working-class take on the superhero mythos. Granite City owes more to the industrial decadence of comic book movies like The crow — though he’s also indebted to local news alarmism that paints all towns as cesspools of crime, on the brink of total anarchy. (As a result, his villains bear the true marks of the beast: tattoos, showy hair, and exposed forearms.)
The few moments of Samaritan reminiscent of more recent superhero films are still a little off: Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), the young maniac who wants to claim the mantle of Nemesis for himself, sports both a philosophy and a mantle reminiscent of the The dark knight rises Bane’s version. It’s clear from the start, however, that these pieces don’t come together. Director Julius Avery puts them together with some truly confusing editing choices, leaving several scenes unresolved.
SamaritanThe transitions of are particularly jarring, put together with muddy writing. The film’s superpower is the ability to inspire a litany of entertaining questions in nearly every scene, no matter how simple. Try following this lead: For reasons not fully explained, Cyrus is willing to employ the teenaged Sam in his criminal enterprise, and Sam is willing to try, despite his devotion to the Samaritan benefactor legend. In one scene, Cyrus quickly trains Sam as a lookout. Sam is supposed to whistle if he sees a cop approaching their hideout, even though Sam just demonstrated he can’t whistle, Cyrus just paid a patrolman, and Granite City doesn’t seem to be crawling with dedicated lawmen .
Avery then transitions to a distant aerial shot, tricking the audience into expecting a transition to a new location or an action requiring a wider view. Then he cuts inside the hideout, as more bad guys arrive – followed by Sam, who sneaks up after them and secretly watches them in inexplicable horror as they do bad things. In addition to the narrative confusion, the tenuous and distant spatial relationship between Sam’s home post and the interior of the hideout makes it seem almost impossible for anyone to hear him hiss a warning, even if they do. could.
Is Sam really conflicted between taking on a life of crime and doing the right thing, mirroring how the citizens of Granite City are divided between Samaritan and Nemesis? Did he accept this job to spy on the bad guys and learn more about their plan to destroy a power grid? The film is full of questions like this, all fundamental to the story, and all unanswered. The script is too busy hastily introducing characters — like a fringe writer/bookseller played by a droll Martin Starr — and then forgetting they exist.
Stallone is meant to serve as a movie star anchor here, and watching him apply his late Rocky period weariness to a gruff superhuman provides the film’s only sustained interest. The filmmakers seem to understand that the basic formula of “reluctant hero Stallone plus fanatical fanboy” is enduring. (“Joe” even gives Sam some fighting lessons, in case the movie wasn’t already enough as a Rocky series extension.) They also have a good plot to roll up their sleeves. But the film is so poorly staged that it manages to conceal the supposedly important hero/child bonding elements, while telegraphing early on where the rest of the story takes place.
Worse, Samaritan drains the fun from a premise that might be irresistible to fans of its stubborn and compelling star, or fans of Unbreakableher look and her tone. In this film, the charm of Stallone’s philosophy turns into a harsh, vague lesson in how to make good choices. (It’s like a libertarian version of Spider-Man’s central lesson: “Great power comes strictly and exclusively with personal responsibility.”)
Stallone should be fit to play an overpowered man in quiet semi-retirement. That’s basically the premise of these later installments of Rocky and Rambo. But aside from the incompetent cinema here, he’s convinced it’s not yet time for him to pack his bags, or even move on to the character acting roles he could really crush. Instead of an elegy for his former invincibility, Samaritan is a completely false and caricatural attempt at a new beginning.
Samaritan begins streaming on Amazon on August 26.
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