Action legend Sylvester Stallone has dabbled in the superhero genre before, most notably as Judge Dredd (1995), the Ravager Stakar Ogord in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. (2017), and the voice of King Shark in The Suicide Squad (2021). (He’s resuming his Ravager role for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.) With his new film Samaritan, Stallone gets to play an aging superhero living anonymously as a garbage man, tormented by his past. Judging by the official trailer, it’s the perfect role for the 73-year-old action star, combining all the best elements of his long, illustrious career.
Samaritan is the brainchild of screenwriter Bragi Schut, best known for Escape Room (2019) and 2011’s Season of the Witch. He first penned a spec script for the film about 10 years ago. But spec scripts can meander through the Hollywood studio ecosystem for years before even being optioned, never mind going into development. So in the meantime, Schut adapted his screenplay into a series of graphic novels for Mythos Comics—the opposite of the usual process these days, with studios competing for recognizable IP to adapt into blockbuster films.
First published in 2014, the comic book version upends the genre’s typical setting of a superhero arriving at a crime-ridden cesspool of a city to take on the bad guys and clean things up. This version depicts the gradual degradation of fictional city of Acropolis after its superhero, Samaritan, is presumably killed in battle against the aptly named superhuman Nemesis inside a burning warehouse. (Nemesis is also killed).
The story is told from the viewpoint of a young boy named Sam, a kid who loves to draw and daydream as his single mom works to save enough money for them to move somewhere less dangerous. Sam is the kind of kid who gets bullied a lot. He’s also curious and soon begins to suspect that the aging garbage man who lives across the street might be more than he seems—ie, he might be Samaritan, alive and living a life of anonymous retirement.
MGM finally acquired Schut’s spec script in 2019 and hired Julius Avery to direct. Filming was interrupted by the pandemic, which also delayed the film’s release date several times. When Amazon Studios acquired MGM earlier this year, it decided to release the film on its Prime Video streaming platform.
Given that Samaritan began as a script and was adapted into a graphic novel, many of the latter’s story elements have been preserved for the film. Per the official premise:
Thirteen-year-old Sam Cleary (Javon “Wanna” Walton) suspects that his mysterious and reclusive neighbor Mr. Smith (Stallone) is actually a legend hiding in plain sight. Twenty-five years ago, Granite City’s super powered vigilante, Samaritan, was reported dead after a fiery warehouse battle with his rival, Nemesis. Most believe Samaritan perished in the fire, but some in the city, like Sam, have hope that he is still alive. With crime on the rise and the city on the brink of chaos, Sam makes it his mission to coax his neighbor out of hiding to save the city from ruin.
In addition to Stallone and Walton, the cast includes Pilou Asbaek (best known as Euron Greyjoy from Game Of Thrones) as Cyrus; Dascha Polanco as Isabelle; Martin Starr as Arthur; Moises Arias as Reza Smith; and Deacon Randle as The Fireman.
The trailer opens with garbageman Joe Smith collecting bits of junk on his rounds—just something to keep him busy. We see him watching the nightly news (with its litany of crime and violence) while eating a bowl of cereal, as the newscaster predicts the city will soon implode. But then Joe sees Sam being chased into an alley by bullies and comes to his rescue, revealing his super strength in the process. And Sam realizes he’s found Samaritan, who’s still alive 25 years after being presumed dead.
Nobody believes Sam, of course, and even Joe denies it at first. But eventually, the two become an unlikely pair. Joe admits he’s not as strong as he once was: “Things start to fall apart when you stop caring. And I stopped caring a long time ago.” Joe runs afoul of Cyrus, who makes it clear to his minions that he wants Joe dead. Joe makes quick work of the would-be assassins. There’s plenty of action, but the trailer also teases the mystery of why Samaritan decided to disappear all those years ago in the first place. As someone says in a voiceover, “The things you bury tend to haunt you.”
Samaritan debut on August 26, 2022, on Prime Video.
Listing image by YouTube/Prime Video