Cinema Scholars reviews the latest Sylvester Stallone action/fantasy Samaritan, now streaming on Prime.


The dominance of the superhero genre in modern cinema shows little sign of wavering. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) showed cinemagoers and studios that it was safe to go back to the theatre, while Thor: Love and Thunder and She-Hulk: Attorney-at-Law have been proven successes for Disney/Marvel so far this year.
However, some critics are determined to find the newest property to be the one that shows the ‘first signs of superhero fatigue.’ Studios have been aware of this for some time. Studios outside of the omnipotent MCU have been looking for new ways to approach the genre. Warner/DC has explored the villain POV with varying levels of success with the Suicide Squad films (2016 and 2021 respectively), Joker (2019), and the recent Peacemaker (2022) on HBO MAX. But, it could be argued that Prime has made it their stock-in-trade with the superb, superhero-skewering The Boys (2019-present) and the surprisingly sadistic first season of Invincible (2021).
Now there’s another take on the genre from the streaming service. What if a superpowered individual retired from fighting crime in order to avoid confrontation and live the quiet life, but their legacy would not allow it? This is Samaritan.
Sylvester Stallone as Joe in Samaritan. Image courtesy of Prime.
Sylvester Stallone as Joe in Samaritan. Image courtesy of Prime.


Young Sam (Javon Walton) lives with his single mom (Dascha Polanco) in Granite City in a rundown apartment where the rent is always overdue. The city is in neglect with absent town officials. Law enforcers are in the pocket of the local crime lord.
In order to help his mom, Sam turns to petty theft with a local gang and catches the eye of the aforementioned crime lord, Cyrus (Game of Thrones Pilou Asbæk). Sam, however, is still inspired by the city’s legendary superhero, the indestructible Samaritan. The city’s protector perished 25 years ago in a battle to the death along with his archenemy and twin brother, Nemesis.
Sam becomes convinced that the old garbageman, Joe (Stallone), who lives opposite the apartment building, is actually Samaritan. He makes it his mission to convince Joe to retake his mantle as Granite City’s savior and take down Cyrus, a ‘disciple’ of Nemesis who continues his idol’s work by bringing chaos to the city. 
Pilou Asbæk and Sylvester Stallone in Samaritan. Image courtesy of Prime.
Pilou Asbæk and Sylvester Stallone in Samaritan. Image courtesy of Prime.


Samaritan’s arrival was delayed by two years due to the pandemic. This begs the question. Why couldn’t the extra time and be used to create a better final product? Perhaps the producers and studio were happy with what they had. Though not disappointing, the film is unsatisfying with an over-reliance on the premise and its superstar lead. “Sylvester Stallone is a retired superhero…” Sells itself right?! 
The script could have given more context about the decline of Granite City and why two fallen feuding super-twins are still to blame 25 years. The focus is on the central trio of Joe, Sam, and Cyrus. But it would have been useful to see a sleazy fat cat mayor waving away responsibility. This would in turn give the audience some explanation of Cyrus’ plan to give ‘Granite City back to the people by bringing a chaotic blackout.’ For the most part, he is too calm and controlled to simply ‘want to watch the world burn.’ In particular, one scene is so reminiscent of The Dark Knight Rises (2012) that it loses all power. Ultimately, he’s just a villain who ripped off his look from Kiefer Sutherland in The Lost Boys (1987).
Now, on to the reason audiences have hit Play- Mr. Stallone. Flying high following Creed and Creed II (2015 and 2018, respectively), an appearance as an OG Guardian of the Galaxy (in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. II, 2017), voicing a CGI shark (The Suicide Squad, 2021), and an increased social media presence, you would think Stallone would be given more to do! His dialogue is minimal, and his relationship with Sam could have been given more time to develop (at the expense of Cyrus and his goons). Stallone can be funny, charming, heartbreaking, inspiring…all displayed in Creed II for example. But not so much in this film. In Samaritan’s eagerness to get to the final act (of which it is immensely proud) small character beats are brushed aside or glossed over. 
Nonetheless, it is a joy to see that ‘Sly Scowl’ and witness Joe unleash the beast fuelled by the rage from 25 years before (when he was 50??) in the final reel. He punches, kicks, smashes, runs through walls, jumps out windows, delivers one-liners, and ultimately saves the day. And because it’s Sly, we grin, pump our fists, and most importantly…care.
Javon 'Wanna' Walton and Sylvester Stallone in Samaritan. Image courtesy of Prime.
Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton and Sylvester Stallone in Samaritan. Image courtesy of Prime.
It could have been so much more. Again, the audience could have been given more time with Joe in his chosen career as a garbageman with his new, subtle way of cleaning the streets. His pastime of fixing old gadgets is like he is trying to repair the past, one piece at a time. His character’s ‘kryptonite’ is that if he sustains too much damage, his heart becomes a ticking time bomb. But this is resolved so quickly in the final act there is barely any time to raise the tension.  The film is called Samaritan. So why not show more of the Samaritan and Nemesis in their prime? As opposed to an all-too-brief fight scene (culminating in a truly awful FX de-aging scene). Which, again, would help explain why they are still so revered.


Samaritan is a decent, streaming service action flick and vehicle for Stallone, showing he’s still got it. However, it wastes its original premise with unoriginal story choices. Sly’s fanbase rightfully adores him. But he and his fans deserve more.

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