Samaritan film takeaway: How does it break the Marvel and DC-induced binary in the superhero genre? (Spoilers)
Sylvester Stallone's Samaritan, which was released on Amazon Prime Video on August 26, 2022, is a dark interpretation of the superhero genre in that it renders its characters a human trait of evolution.
Departing from the usual Marvel and DC tropes, the film is more about making choices in life than about being burdened with the responsibilities of the world. It boasts no aliens or technology or a sibling from another planet. Instead, it highlights the importance of choices and the consequences they come with - giving a humane spin to its central superhero.
The film's insistence on choice is best captured in a dialogue by Sam's mother Tiffany, who says.
"The decisions you make add up."
This Julius Avery directorial follows 13-year-old high school student Sam, who lives on the brink of eviction notices with single mother Tiffany. He is a die-hard fan of the superhero Samaritan, who is said to have lost his life alongside his brother in a fire 25 years ago. While the world believes that the superhero is dead, Sam has been tracking even the tiniest hints of him being alive.
Set in a crumbling economy, the film does not polarize people as heroes and villains, but just as individuals who are in dire need of earning a living.
It features Sylvester Stallone as Joe Smith, Javon "Wanna" Walton as Sam Cleary, Pilou Asbaek as the notorious gangster Cyrus, Dascha Polanco as Sam's mother Tiffany, Moises Arias as Reza, Martin Starr as Albert Casier, Sophia Tatum as Cyrus' associate Sil, and Jared Odrick as Farshad.
Read on to find out what some of the takeaways from the film are.
How does Samaritan break Marvel and DC's binary in the superhero genre?
Samaritan sets the context of an economy in doldrums
The backdrop of a failing economy becomes the cornerstone in such stories of the superhero genre because antagonists and anti-heroes, more often than not, hail from the afflicted sections of society.
The character of Cyrus, for instance, comes from a background where he was beaten on the streets. This, in turn, makes him prone to choosing chaos and violence over peace, thereby establishing how the economy coincides with ideology.
Cyrus worshipped Nemesis not because he thought the superhero was notorious, but because he "gave people a beating, who needed a beating." Samaritan, on the other hand, was "just another cop to protect the rich while the rest of us went hungry."
Most Marvel and DC films fail to establish a context that is closer to reality. Their major concerns are espionage, aliens and technology that, in turn, contextualize their films. This trope is absent in Samaritan.
The film establishes empathy for the unemployed who take to the streets as drug and arms dealers, and the evicted who get hired by the dealers in order to earn a living.
In fact, the superhero himself is a part of this system. He works as a garbage man and collects dumped items like a fan, radio, and camera, to pawn.
Samaritan renders its superhero the basic human trait
The film's writers have successfully induced the superhero with the most basic trait of survival, i.e. evolution. Joe Smith's identity of Nemesis is not just a good revelation, but also portrays that superheroes are capable of undergoing change.
Nemesis detracts from his route of vengeance and chaos after losing Samaritan - his brother and his only remaining family.
He does not seek revenge for his parents' death, nor does he take to charity after losing everything. He simply goes underground with his identity, and emerges 25 years later.
While there are inconsistencies in the film in terms of why Joe Smith aka Nemesis defended Sam and not other kids who might have faced bullying, the safest bet it plays is in incorporating the concept of choice.
Joe Smith explains this to Sam after evacuating him from the burning power station,
"If there was only bad people doing bad things, it'd be easy to get rid of them. But the real truth is, good and bad live in everybody's heart. And it's going to be upto you to make the right choice."
This binary is starkly different from the usual, because the only aspect capable of evolution in Marvel and DC films is that of the superheroes' powers, not personalities.
Exceptions like Batman exist, but the quantitative lower hand hardly counts.
Samaritan questions the social concepts of good and evil, and expands their definition
While both brothers - Samaritan and Nemesis - were said to have lost their lives in the power station fire 25 years ago, the people of Granite City expected only the former's return.
Even when a man with superhuman capabilities is captured on camera saving a little girl from a blast, he is touted as Samaritan, the good one, even though in reality, it is Nemesis.
While the world praised Samaritan, the troubled people of Granite City looked up to Nemesis for defending the poor against the rich.
In portraying such social attitudes, the film not only challenges the definitions of good and bad, but also expands them to an extent that the lines in-between tend to get blurred.
The stories in the Marvel and DC universes, on the other hand, do not exist beyond the binaries of black and white, good and evil, and heroes and villains.
Viewers can catch Samaritan currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.