According to the poster for Prime Video’s “Samaritan,” “the world’s greatest superhero vanished 25 years ago.” The opening narration by Sam (Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton) gives us the Cliffs Notes version of how he did. Samaritan had a nemesis in the form of a twin brother named, you guessed it, Nemesis. “They were freakishly strong as kids,” Sam says, and their inability to control their strength terrified the Granite City residents. As a result, the residents padlocked their family inside their home and set fire to it. Their parents were killed in the fire, but the mutant twins survived. Samaritan grew up to fight crime in the same city that burned his parents to death, but Nemesis’ understandable hatred turned him into a villain. Because his brother was now the enemy, Nemesis poured all of his hatred for him into a massive hammer that became Samaritan’s Kryptonite and…
No, I’m not making this up, and yes, I’m writing this review while under the influence of alcohol. I haven’t even gotten to the part where both brothers die in a power plant explosion that disrupts their sibling rivalry. The opening credits contain all of this information. I must commend Walton for enthusiastically reading these details from Bragi F. Schut’s screenplay, as well as the animators who bring it to life. The obnoxious and overbearing score by Kevin Kiner and Jed Kurzel almost convinces you that this overwritten origin story should be taken seriously. Both characters are said to die, taking out the power grid with them, but Sam believes Samaritan is still alive.
Why does Sam think this? The film provides no explanation, nor does it delve into the conspiracy theory advanced by author Albert Casler’s (Martin Starr) book “Samaritan Lives.” Sam keeps running to Albert every time he sees an elderly person demonstrate an ounce of strength, only to be disproved time and again. Sam writes in notebooks about Samaritan’s exploits and spray paints his logo on dumpsters. He even has one of those walls from conspiracy films, except his is on his closet door. This is a 40-year-old paranoid man trapped in the body of a 13-year-old.
Granite City is even more ridiculous. It’s covered in graffiti, vacant lots, and alleys, and it looks like the city descriptions Fox News uses to frighten its viewers. You almost expect Austin Butler’s Elvis from Baz Luhrmann’s film to migrate from pay-per-view to Amazon so he can stroll down the street singing “In the Ghetto.” This area is also rife with crime, with Sam committing petty theft alongside teenagers who work for the evil Cyrus (Pilou Asbaek). One of these kids has rainbow braids and is tattooed all over. His evil is so over-the-top that he appears to have been transported from “Robocop 2.” Sam feels the same way Cyrus feels about Samaritan, so much so that he wants to be like him and destroy Granite City.
In terms of Samaritan, Sam’s next-door neighbour, a garbage collector named Joe, could be the real deal. He’s played by a gray-bearded Sylvester Stallone, so you know he’s not your average garbage collector. When Joe beats up the aforementioned teenagers after they turn against Sam, he raises suspicions. When Sam breaks into Joe’s house and discovers a scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings about Samaritan, he becomes even more suspicious. Then there’s the trailer scene where Joe is smashed to bits by a car driven by the people he just beat up, and his body heals itself.
There are so many holes in “Samaritan’s” screenplay that the film needs to move faster than it does to keep up. Director Julius Avery unleashes a barrage of carnage on the screen, but even that becomes tedious, and the mind returns to asking questions. For example, if Samaritan was world-renowned and everyone was aware of his abilities, why are dozens of people shooting at him or attempting to punch him out? And what’s the deal with the bad guys’ power-zapping grenades? They appear to cause massive explosions, but in one case, a character detonates one without throwing it, which does not blow him up. The film is so bored with itself that it can’t keep track of its own weapons.
In “Judge Dredd,” Sylvester Stallone played a similar type of superhero 27 years ago. Now, I didn’t think the film was as bad as many others did. Stallone’s commitment to playing the role in a completely humourless manner, as well as his repeated yelling “I am the LAW!” amused me. “Judge Dredd” even had the decency to be rated R. “Samaritan” is extremely violent and bloodless, earning it the cynically applied PG-13 rating. People are sledgehammered in the head, shot with automatic weapons, and punched by a man whose strength should cause them to explode. There’s also Stallone fleeing a burning, collapsing building, which he did in the much better “Expendables 3.”
I’ll keep writing until I’m proven wrong that the majority of these straight-to-streaming movies aren’t meant to be watched with any kind of attention. I’m a fool to try to follow this movie because there are no characters to care about and no follow-throughs on the world building it tries to do. It even has a twist that you should be able to predict during the opening credits, and the film fails to capitalise on that potentially interesting development. To paraphrase Tina Turner, “Samaritan” demonstrates that we don’t need another superhero.