There are no capes or tights in “Samaritan,” a superhero movie that doesn’t subscribe to the rules of modern superhero movies.
Director Julius Avery (2018’s “Overlord”) sets his tale in a gritty modern world and grounds it in recognizable reality, establishing the stakes early on. It’s a superhero movie where the superhero takes a backseat to everything else, and is better for it.
Joe Smith (Sylvester Stallone) is the superhero in question, even though in his knit cap, flannel shirt and gray beard he looks more like a union foreman. He’s quiet and keeps to himself, although his neighbor Sam (Javon Walton) thinks he may be Samaritan, a superhero in his hometown of Granite City. Years ago Samaritan clashed with his archnemesis twin brother, The Nemesis, and both were said to have died in the battle.
Young Sam is a Samaritan superfan, and he desperately needs someone to look up to. He’s being raised by his single mother (Dascha Polanco) who is too overworked to watch over him as he gets mixed up with the local riff-raff, including gang boss Cyrus (Pilou Asbaek) and his henchmen, headed up by the weasel-like Reza (Moises Arias, sporting multicolor braids). The city is falling into chaos as workers are on strike, foreclosures are on the rise and homelessness is running rampant.
Joe takes Sam under his wing but can’t protect him all the time, as Cyrus uses the Purge-like conditions of the city to fashion himself into a modern version of The Nemesis. Questions abound: Is Joe the man Sam believes him to be? Will Samaritan show himself and fight for the forces of good? And if Sam is so poor, how does he have such a crispy pair of Jordan 1s on his feet?
“Samaritan” has a fresh approach to its subject matter, even if it doesn’t have all the answers to its most pressing questions. Director Avery creates a small, contained world where the forces of good and evil are at war not for the fate of the world, but just a few city blocks. Walton, Asbaek and Arias are strong enough that Stallone doesn’t have to do any heavy lifting, and “Samaritan” works because it stays true to its own principles. It’s a superhero movie with its feet planted firmly on the ground.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for strong violence and strong language)
Running time: 1:39
How to watch: On Prime Video Friday