Review: Julius Avery's Action Movie 'Samaritan' Wastes its Potential
by Manuel São Bento
August 25, 2022
A few years ago, Overlord opened, which was one of the best surprises I hae ever experienced on the big screen. With almost no expectations, Julius Avery blew me away with his sophomore feature, so when I learned that the filmmaker was exploring a dark take on the superhero genre, I immediately got interested in this project. Despite understanding the reasons behind the "superhero fatigue" discourse, the truth is that this so-called tiredness is only mentioned when movies don't succeed. Therefore, as this is a genre I quite appreciate, I'll always be invested in what directors and writers have to offer. That said, Samaritan holds a premise filled with potential, but it mediocrely fails to develop its fascinating ideas in any satisfying way.
This is writer Bragi F. Schut's first-ever feature screenplay, which may or may not be the major reason why Samaritan ignores a much more interesting, emotionally compelling narrative, replacing it with a generic, predictable story about a kid, Sam (Javon Walton), fanboying about meeting a famed superhero, Joe Smith (Sylvester Stallone). He had been missing for decades after a battle against his own brother, Nemesis. In fact, just in case someone goes in with unreliable expectations for this superhero movie, Walton plays the actual protagonist. Obviously, Stallone still has a good chunk of screentime, but the main focus of the story surrounds Sam, the bullying he frequently suffers, and criminal path he follows in order to help his single mom pay the bills.
Nothing new or inventive here. Samaritan superficially touches the "good vs. bad" theme - done time and time again - so there are no surprises in store. Avery tries to make his film look layered and shocking with some well-handled, theoretically twisty revelations, but it all feels so familiar that not even inexperienced viewers will be caught off guard by something that can be easily deciphered after the first few minutes. There's nothing wrong with using well-known formulas and cliches in movies, as long as these are executed in an entertaining manner for the audience. Unfortunately, two problems surround this important point…
Even though Samaritan is, indeed, different from all the conventional flicks within this genre, it is still a superhero movie. Obviously, this doesn't inherently mean a film *must* have action sequences – Joker is a prime example of a superhero movie that doesn't focus on actual fighting – but it must have something that offers that entertainment value. The issue is that not only is the action underwhelming, but there's nothing that replaces it or adds to it. The fight scenes are decent at best, but overall, they're just the usual, repetitive throw-and-punch type of action. The stunt work is really impressive, though. Stuntmen are thrown left and right through every possible obstacle one can imagine.
Nevertheless, the main problem is that a better story is shrunk to fit in a visually stylized, narrated prologue that raises many thought-provoking questions, but they're left unexplored or answered in a very simplistic, cheap way. Samaritan truly boasts an exciting premise, but it refuses to dive deep into the history of its own world, ultimately undermining the Samaritan-Nemesis symbolic relationship – Stallone spends the whole film basically replying "I don't want to talk about it" every time someone asks about his past. In addition, the action-heavy third act features pretty noticeable green screen and poor VFX in other elements.
I do want to end this review with a positive note. Composers Jed Kurzel and Kevin Kiner's score and the lead performances are the saving graces. Stallone does his best with what he gets, bringing a lot of humor to quite a bland-looking movie. Keeping in mind Walton was 14 to 15 years old when he filmed Samaritan, the young actor delivers a fine portrayal, even though I believe his character should have never been the lead of this film had the premise followed the most intriguing route. Pilou Asbæk interprets the antagonist in a convincingly evil fashion, adding some well-needed craziness. With a more refined script, Avery definitely would have been able to make a much better movie.
Julius Avery's Samaritan holds quite an interesting premise, but sadly, it's yet another addition to the list of films with wasted potential. What could have been a truly dark, fascinating story about two superpowered brothers with distinct views on life is, instead, a bland, predictable, formulaic narrative with less Sylvester Stallone than expected. The cast offers good performances, but choosing to focus on Javon Walton's generic character when the prologue leaves room for such an engrossing exploration of the past proves to be a terrible decision. Action-wise, it lacks the energy and creativity necessary to entertain most viewers, despite the dedicated stunt work. A tad frustrating experience overall.