There was a time when a city had a hero, Samaritan, but those times are gone. Samaritan and his brother, a nemesis named . . . Nemesis, disappeared after a lengthy battle. Both were presumed dead. But young Sam Cleary (Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton) thinks at least one of them survived, and he thinks it is an old man who lives in the building just across from him. As that old man, Joe, is played by Sylvester Stallone, he might be right. Will Samaritan return, and will he deal with the new threat (Cyrus, played by Pilou Asbæk) that the city is facing?
I could have worked a bit more on that summary, but that would require more effort than the writer of the film put into the plotting. I have enjoyed some previous work from Bragi F. Schut (mainly the Escape Room movie), but this is bad. And it’s bad from start to finish, despite having a few scenes between young Sam and old Joe that show promise.
Director Julius Avery entertained me with the excellent Overlord a few years ago so I know that he can so great work. He can keep viewers grounded, in terms of geography and timing. You wouldn’t know that from this film. Scenes go by that could be indicating minutes, hours, or days, and the locations could be almost next door to one another or in opposite sides of the country (the only exceptions being Sam’s apartment and Joe’s apartment). And my summary of the film? It is depicted in animated form at the very start of the movie.
A couple of things work, mainly the cast and a few decent fight scenes, but this is a superhero movie that thinks it is slyly subverting the superhero movie, and it really isn’t. If you haven’t spotted the third act moment being set up from the very opening moments then I don’t know what to tell you, but I saw it coming a mile away. The fact that the film allows it to play out as if it is a major bombshell ends up undermining it, and undermining the whole film. It doesn’t help that it is followed by a flashback with some of the worst de-aging FX work I have seen in a mainstream film.
Stallone is as good as you would expect in the role, his performance helped by the fact that he is an elderly man who could still beat up most of us with one hand tied behind his back. Walton is fine, even if he is credited with the middle name ‘Wanna’, but his character is sorely underwritten, and surprisingly hard to root for at times. Dascha Polanco is perfectly fine, playing the mother of Walton’s character, and various minor goodies and baddies are suitably portrayed by Moises Arias, Jared Odrick, Sophia Tatum, Abraham Clinkscales, and Shameik Moore. Asbæk is the highlight, however, and he manages to lift the movie slightly with every one of his scenes, seeming to revel in the experience of playing the kind of charismatic and deadly villain you could slot into pretty much every action thriller from the 1980s onwards.
There are one or two ideas here that make the appeal of the movie obvious, with everyone involve probably thinking they would get to have their cake and eat it, starring in a superhero movie that tried to be a step removed from other superhero movies. Sadly, those ideas are either under-developed or worthless, especially when couched in a feature that is so flat and consistently lazy. There’s not one aspect that deserves extra praise, from the score to the wardrobe, from production design to the effects, and I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone. Just watch Mystery Men instead. Or Super. Or Defendor. Or one of many other movies that twists some of the superhero movie tropes.
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