“25 years ago, the world’s greatest superhero vanished,” according to the poster for Prime Video’s “Samaritan.” The narration by Sam (Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton) that opens the film gives us the Cliffs Notes version of how he did. Samaritan had a nemesis, a twin brother named—you guessed it—Nemesis. As kids, “they were freakishly strong,” Sam tells us, and their inability to control their strength terrified the residents of Granite City. So, the residents padlocked their family in their house and set it on fire. The blaze killed their parents, but the mutant twins survived. Samaritan grew up to fight crime in the same city whose denizens burnt his parents to a crisp, but Nemesis’ understandable hatred made him a villain. Since his brother was now the enemy, Nemesis poured all his hatred for his brother into a gigantic hammer that became Samaritan’s Kryptonite.
No, I’m not making this up, and yes, I’m writing this review sober. I haven’t even gotten to the part where both brothers kick the bucket when a power plant explosion interrupts their sibling rivalry. All of this information is crammed into the opening credits. I must give props to Walton for the enthusiastic reading of these details from Bragi F. Schut’s screenplay and to the animators who bring it to life. The bombastic score by Kevin Kiner and Jed Kurzel is just obnoxious and overbearing enough to convince you that it should take this overwritten origin story seriously. We’re told both characters perish, taking out the power grid with them, but Sam tells us he believes Samaritan is still alive.
Why does Sam believe this? The movie doesn’t offer any explanation nor delve into the conspiracy theory in author Albert Casler’s (Martin Starr) book “Samaritan Lives.” Sam keeps running to Albert every time he sees an older adult display an ounce of strength, only to be disproven repeatedly. Sam draws notebooks full of Samaritan’s exploits, and sprays paint his logo on dumpsters. He even has one of those walls you see in conspiracy movies, except he is on his closet door. It is a 40-year-old paranoid man trapped in a 13-year-old’s body.
Even more ridiculous is Granite City itself. It’s covered in graffiti, vacant lots, and alleys and looks like the descriptions of cities Fox News uses to scare its viewers. You almost expect Austin Butler’s Elvis from that Baz Luhrmann movie to hop over to Amazon from pay-per-view so he can stroll down the street singing “In the Ghetto.” This place is also crime-ridden, with Sam committing petty theft with teenagers who work for the evil Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk). One of these kids has rainbow-colored braids and is covered with tattoos. His evil is so over-the-top he feels ported over from “Robocop 2.” The way Sam feels about Samaritan is how Cyrus feels about Nemesis, so much so that he wants to emulate and destroy Granite City.
As for Samaritan, Sam’s next-door neighbor, a sanitation worker named Joe, might be the real deal. A gray-bearded Sylvester Stallone plays him, so you know he’s no regular trash hauler. Joe arouses suspicion when he beats up the teenagers, as mentioned above, after they turn against Sam. Even further arousals of worry occur when Sam breaks into Joe’s house and finds a scrapbook filled with newspaper clips about Samaritans. Then, of course, there’s the scene in the trailer where Joe gets smashed to bits by a car driven by the folks he beat up, and his body fixes itself.
There are so many holes in “Samaritan”’s screenplay that the movie needs to move faster than it does if it is to outrun them. Director Julius Avery throws lots of carnage on the screen, but even that becomes so repetitive that the mind wanders back to asking questions. If Samaritan was world-renown and everyone knew his powers, how come dozens of people keep shooting at him or trying to punch him out? And what is the deal with the power-zapping grenades the bad guys use? They cause massive explosions, but in one instance, a character detonates one without throwing it, and it doesn’t blow him up. The movie is so bored with itself that it can’t keep its weapons straight.
Twenty-seven years ago, Sylvester Stallone played a similar type of superhero in “Judge Dredd.” I didn’t think that movie was as bad as many people. I found some amusement in Stallone’s commitment to playing a role in an utterly humorless fashion and repeatedly screaming, “I am the LAW!” Plus, “Judge Dredd” had the decency to be rated R. “Samaritan” is extremely violent and even more bloodless, so it can get the cynically applied PG-13. People get hit in the head with giant sledgehammers, shot with automatic weapons, and punched by a man whose strength should make them explode. There’s also Stallone outrunning a burning, collapsing building, something he did already in the much more enjoyable “Expendables 3.”
Until I’m proven wrong, I will keep writing that most of these straight-to-streaming movies are not meant to be watched with any semblance of attention being paid. I’m a damn fool for trying to follow this movie because there are no characters to care about and no follow-throughs on the world-building it attempts. It even has a twist that you should be able to predict during the opening credits, and the film doesn’t even do anything useful with that potentially exciting development. “Samaritan” proves, to paraphrase Tina Turner, that we don’t need another superhero.