There’s a standard roadmap for an actor like Sylvester Stallone — at 76, still handsome, but no longer with a rock(y) body — to get into the comic book movie zone, and that’s for him to play a character like the righteous Ravager Stakar Ogord in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” or to voice King Shark in “The Suicide Squad.” It’s quite a likable nostalgic novelty cast. But what if Stallone, who in his own way has played invincible superheroes for decades (think “Rambo” and its sequels or “The Expendables” and its sequels), wants to become a complete avenger and portray a total comic book demigod?
He’ll star in a chintzy slice of hellfire like “Samaritan,” based on the Mythos Comics graphic novel that was released in 2014. It’s set in Granite City, an everyday dystopia where Stallone lugs his body around with a reluctant mess . He plays an aging crime fighter in hiding in a film which, as written by Bragi F. Schut (who also wrote the comic) and directed by Julius Avery, offers a conventional yet downbeat, low-plot but maximally incendiary variation. on bare bones superhero action.
In an opening credits prologue that is very…molten, a boy narrator explains to us that years ago a battle took place between Samaritan and Nemesis, sworn enemy twin brothers. Samaritan became a superhero; Nemesis, consumed with revenge, became a supervillain, with “a hammer into which he poured all his hate and rage. It was the only thing that could destroy Samaritan. The two fought to the death at a power plant, where they both died in an apocalyptic explosion. “That’s the story we’ve all been told,” the boy tells us. “But I believe Samaritan is still alive.”
The boy, Sam (Javon “Wanna” Walton), who is 13 and lives with his mother (Dascha Polanco) in a squalid city, believes it all the more when he sees Joe Smith (Stallone), a garbage collector who lives in the building opposite. Stallone, in an El Greco beard like the one he first tried in the 1981 thriller “Nighthawks,” sports a scar that curves around his right eye and scars that crisscross his back. He wears a hoodie and flannel shirt under a dirty beige down jacket, which gives him the superhero mystique as a regular prole that Bruce Willis had in “Unbreakable.”
Joe, as we learn, is impervious to bullets, knife wounds, or collisions with a car (although it takes him a minute or two to flex and straighten his old broken limbs). But he’s basically Stallone’s idea of a comic book crime fighter: a super murderer. He’s like The Thing with a slurry Method growl. Joe has to smash tubs of ice cream to cool his literally overheated body. (The movie’s ad line should be “It’s not Superman. He’s super crazy.”)
Stallone, however, is also a bit deadpan here – in his acting and in Joe’s actions. Joe enjoys salvaging old scrap pieces like toasters and fixing them, as he identifies with them; it’s a relic that needs a little TLC. He has a good reason for not wanting to show himself, he lives in a “troglodyte” in a shabby apartment. But when he spots Sam being bullied by punk gangs (led by the charismatic Moises Arias, who looks like a Dickensian street urchin with tattoos and purple dreads), Joe’s instinct is to protect him. . And when Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), the local junkyard sociopath, tries to revive the mantle of Nemesis, with that hammer and a horde of “revolutionary” followers – the film’s bid for “Joker” relevance, well that this crowd looks like something out of a lesser sequel to “Purge” – Sam is caught between good and bad father figures, which kind of defines Joe’s fate for him.
There’s a slight element of camp to the way Stallone in “Samaritan” will face a warehouse full of thugs and attack them like he would in an “Expendables” movie, punching them with fists of fury. In this case, however, a body he crushes will fly 10 feet into a wall, making the fight scenes play like “The Expendables” with helium. Cyrus, with a complicated beard and frosty hair shaved into a mohawk fade that reveals a snake tattoo, is played by ‘Game of Thrones’ Pilou Asbæk in a casually psychotic manner. He’s like Guy Fieri’s evil brother as a “Mad Max” renegade. The vehicles, too, resemble “Mad Max” rides: vintage muscle cars painted dull black. “Samaritan” is basic enough to often play like a video game movie in which someone forgot to add the CGI. But the movie turns into a really good twist, and Stallone, in his own way, brings a vibe to it, with an ’80s kiss line (“Have a blast!”) delivered in a growl so deliberate it carves itself practically in the background.