REVIEW – SAMARITAN (minor spoilers)

Figure 1 – Samaritan poster

As I write this, it’s Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022, and Queen Elizabeth II has just died within the hour, after 70 years on the throne. My family lived in England at the time of her accession to the throne, and I still have my Coronation Mug (a souvenir all three of us got) somewhere. Her son, Charles Arthur George (etc.) is now King of England, and Camilla (Parker-Bowles) will be the Queen Consort, rather than Queen, thanks to Elizabeth’s foresight. Nobody’s very sanguine about Chuck as King, but who knows? Maybe he’ll surprise us. I last saw the Queen in person about ten years ago when the company I worked for (Crystal Decisions, now part of SAP) was on Pender Street in Vancouver, above the U.S. Consulate. She and her hubby were visiting Vancouver for some reason, and they chose to leave town on Pender, driving right past the building; I decided to go down and see the motorcade, even though I thought it would be crowded.

Surprise! There was nobody else on the sidewalk in front of our building, and the motorcade was two motorcycles, three limos and two more motorcycles. So I stood right on the curb (“kerb” in Britain) and waved as they drew abreast—she looked at me and waved back! (Not that regal hand-turning thing, either; a real wave!) Prince Philip looked straight ahead, not deigning to look, but the Queen smiled and waved at me! I was chuffed, let me tell you! So now my Royal Romance, beginning in 1952, has ended in 2022. Sigh.

I suppose you’re not very interested in all that; you’re here to hear what I have to say about Sylvester Stallone’s latest “superhero” movie, available on Amazon Prime, called Samaritan. And I’m eager to talk about it, too. I have to tell you that by and large, superhero movies (mostly Marvel ones) haven’t been that great lately, in my less-than-humble opinion. (Like I’ve said, I’m not a critic, but boy, do I have opinions!)

So because I like ol’ Sly, I was kind of half-looking forwards to this movie. I’ve liked—more or less—the last several of Sly’s movies; not only the Rocky sequels, but also the several Expendables, Bullet to the Head, the Escape Plans, the last Rambo—okay, maybe not necessarily the movies so much, but Stallone himself. He may be only an actor/writer, but I find him curiously trustworthy as a person, whichever character he’s playing. (And I’m chuffed to find out there’s gonna be one more Expendables; all these old action heroes and wrestling peeps—Sly, Ahnuld Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson, Randy Couture, Ronda Rousey, Kelsey Grammer, and Harrison Ford, fa cryin’ out loud!) Of all these people, Sly’s the one person who doesn’t really seem like he’s acting.

This movie’s a bit of a departure for him; for one thing, he’s got facial hair—Lynne thinks he looks a bit Middle Eastern (see Figure 1). For another, he’s playing a reluctant hero: he doesn’t want to get involved, and he doesn’t like people! (He says, anyway.) Here’s the story.

The action is set in Granite City (state unspecified), which is a city on the verge. Practically the whole city’s a slum; their power station is a hub which, although decaying, controls a wide area. (It was the site, twenty-five years ago, of a climactic battle between Granite City’s two super-beings, one Nemesis—icon an “N” with a hammer in it, like the one in the USSR’s “hammer and sickle”—who was the bad guy, and a good guy named Samaritan. Nemesis hated: he hated so much that he “poured all his hatred into a hand-forged hammer that was more powerful than Samaritan, who could hurl cars around like baseballs, and who protected the public. (Samaritan’s logo was a stylized two-part “S.”) Nemesis died in that battle at the power station; Samaritan disappeared and had not been seen since. People believed he was dead.)

Thirteen-year-old Sam Cleary (Javon “Wanna” Walton) and his mom Tiffany (Dascha Polanco), who’s a nurses’ aide, are broke and always on the edge of eviction. Sam’s mom borrows the $5 she gave him from Sam—“do you know how many bedpans I had to empty to get that money?”—just for bus fare to get to work. Sam and his big friend Jace (Abraham Clinkscales) get hassled by the local teen gang, names not really important except for Reza (Moises Arias), who are somewhat affiliated with the big gang led by crazy bad Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk) and his girlfriend Sil (Sophia Tatum), who’s even nastier than he is, along with a couple of other guys. (I’m probably not alone in mistaking Cyrus for a much younger Kiefer Sutherland, possibly in his Lost Boys role.)

Anyway, Sam is a giant fan of the long-gone Samaritan; he keeps a notebook full of drawings of his hero. He thinks Samaritan could fix Granite City in a jiffy—and what’s more, he thinks Samaritan’s alive! See, his neighbour across the way, who’s a garbageman who takes repairable junk out of the garbage and fixes it to pawn it, is actually Samaritan. In fact, when Sam was being beat up by Reza’s gang, the garbageman—Joe Smith (Sly Stallone)—came to his rescue and threw the bad guys around like they were pillows or something, and even took a knife from one of them (maybe Reza) and bent it with his bare hands! Sam rescues the knife after the gang scarpers and takes it to a guy he knows who does exposes on the web, trying to tell him. (But he’s been wrong so many times that the guy won’t listen unless Sam pays him.) Sam has $10 because he did a job for Reza’s crew and Cyrus paid him—at one point, Cyrus sees Sam’s notebook and tells him he’s rooting for the wrong guy. Sam says “Nemesis hurt people”; Cyrus says “sometimes it’s who you hurt; Nemesis always punched up.” Cyrus thinks Samaritan stood up for the people at the top and the corporations, but Nemesis stood up for the little guys, the people in the slums.

Cyrus and his gang impersonate cops, and break into a secure police storage facility where they ignore bricks of money to take stuff that police recovered from the power plant after the big battle—Nemesis’s helmet/facemask and his hammer! Caressing it, Cyrus says “We’re gonna finish what Nemesis started”—and at that moment, Joe Smith feels something and looks up from the workbench where he’s repairing a radio he took out of the garbage.

This, you can tell, is shaping up to be a very standard superhero thing: kid gets in trouble, hero comes out of hiding and saves kid, bad guy takes on the mantle of the dead bad guy and chaos reigns (sorta like Clarence Boddiker does in Robocop); there’s a battle at the end of good guy (Samaritan) and bad guy (Nemesis reborn). Except that there are a couple of twists in there. Yes, it more or less develops the way you think it will. I’m not gonna tell you who wins, because it’s not as straightforward as it sounds. I don’t know how you’ll react to it, but we liked it. A lot better than many of the (overblown SFX-led) recent Marvels, like Spider-man: No Way Home or Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Because the SFX were NOT overblown. They served the story rather than serving AS the story, if you get the difference.

Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love the Tom Holland Spider-Man (and his girlfriend Zendaya/MJ and even Jacob Batalon/Ned. And Benedict Cumberbatch couldn’t be more perfect as Dr. Strange; it’s just that the stories in these two movies depends more on SFX than on character, and that disappoints me. As a fan, I’m glad that effects people can now show almost anything you can think of—stuff that would have boggled people’s minds 60 years ago—but do we have to see it all at once? Sheesh.

Anyway, Samaritan is a comic book, but a much more low-key comic book. And I applaud that. YMMV, as always, but that’s how I see it.

Figure 2 – Chiwetel Ejiofor in The Man Who Fell to Earth

Short subject(s): We’ve been watching the new Showtime series based on Walter Tevis’s book The Man Who Fell to Earth. Now, I read that book *mumble* years ago, and I saw the David Bowie movie just as many years ago—and I don’t remember either of them well. That probably says as much about me in that time than it does about either the movie or the book—all I remember about the movie was a giant wall of TV screens so he could watch everything at once. But I’ll definitely remember this series once it’s done (and there may be a Season 2 in the works).

Chiwetel Ejiofor (Figure 2) is another very versatile actor whom I’ve been following for a long time (partly because I like saying his name. It’s a really cool name!) as an actor; he’s been excellent in everything I’ve seen him in—you probably remember him as the nemesis in Serenity. In this series he plays opposite Naomi Harris (you probably remember her from James Bond’s Skyfall, playing the first Black Moneypenny) as an alien from the planet Anthea, which is dying. He’s come to Earth to finish a project she started, which is a quantum fusion reactor, which will give Anthea (and Earth) a second chance at life. Earth itself has only about ten years before we’ve tipped over the edge and are on the road to extinction of all animal life—including humans. Other cast members include Bill Nighy (Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean and a billion other movies), Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek Voyager) and Jimmi Simpson (Westworld). I won’t go into plot further than that, because I’d like to review it when I’m done.

I have to say (because of what I said about Samaritan) that the SFX here are definitely in service to the plot and don’t overwhelm. I’m fascinated by this show and really looking forward to seeing the rest.

Coming will be a review of Nope, Jordan Peele’s latest SF movie (positive) and maybe a few comments about TV series we started watching and kind of fell off. And maybe a few comments about why we stopped watching them. We’ll see.

Any comments? If you want to, you can comment here or on Facebook, or even by email (stevefah at hotmail dot com). I do welcome all comments, even if you don’t agree with me, as long as you’re mostly polite. Or humourous. My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!

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