It’s every kid’s dream to live next door to a superhero, and although that might sound like the beginning of playful family comedy, new Sylvester Stallone film Samaritan is anything but.
The acting legend assumes the role of Granite City’s superpowered vigilante Samaritan in the Prime Video film, which frames the genre in a new light.
When we meet our titular superhero, he’s an unassuming garbage man by the name of Joe Smith, living a quiet and reclusive life until thirteen-year-old Sam Cleary (played by The Umbrella Academy‘s Javon “Wanna” Walton) recognises that he might be a legend hiding in plain sight.
Many believe Samaritan to have died following a fiery warehouse battle with his rival, Nemesis, 25 years earlier, but Sam won’t let up, not when Granite City needs its hero back most.
“It’s almost very reflective of what’s going on,” Stallone begins during a global press conference promoting the film.
“Quite often, people go, ‘You know what, we’re basically good people who can take care of ourselves and let’s be on the honour system,’ and quite often it backfires. And then you go, ‘How do we get rid of all this violence and fear?’
“In the movies, it’s always this mythic character… so it’s kind of a cautionary tale; quite often you get rid of your hero, and then maybe you need a hero back, because you’re just not ready to take on the responsibility.”
Without spoiling anything, Stallone goes on to tease why his character disappeared, saying “he had an issue that is so personal, that he couldn’t face the facts”.
And so Joe becomes a garbage man, which some people might consider “the most anonymous job in the world”.
“No one pays any attention to these people,” he adds. “Yet when you think about it, without them, we’re in big trouble. So there’s all these metaphors in there.”
Before he found success as an actor, Stallone had a slew of odd jobs, and it was those “boots on the ground” experiences that he tapped into for Samaritan.
“I have been everything from a doorman to a bartender to cutting fish, working in lion cages to a movie usher where you’re the third one who wears the same tuxedo. So you have two other guys’ BO, and people are blaming it on you.
“I understand how the whole process works. And you’ve got to be a little humble and eat a little humble pie to get through it all. But you learn, you really learn.
“And I think it just adds to the human experience. And so I think, for example, I enjoy acting now more than when I was 30, 35. You think you know everything. You know nothing.
“I think the soft spot in a man’s head doesn’t get hard until about 41. You’re still learning. You think you’ve got it under control, not quite.”
The on-screen relationship between Joe and Sam is the core of the film, Stallone stating, “When you see older people hanging out with younger people, it’s vital… because they both become so symbiotic.”
“As you get older, you become cynical and you go, ‘Ah, to hell with it,’” he says.
“And that’s why you hit the cranky old man syndrome… there’s something so invigorating and infectious about this kid who’s full of life and he just wants to explore and he wants you to help him, educate and take them on this journey.
“So in a sense, he’s winding the clock back for me. I was willing to go off into that sunset, bitter, crumble away, just become dust.”
Any superhero film is only as good as its villain, and Game of Thrones’ Pilou Asbæk receives a wealth of praise from the leading man, who confesses that “good is pretty simple to play”.
“Bad is complex, because you [can] do it so badly, like twisting the moustache, that the audience goes, ‘Aw, come on, he’s no threat.’
“Like, for example, a Mr. T or a Drago – they just radiate like, ‘Oh sh*t, I don’t want to be around this.’ Well, it’s the same thing with him. When I saw him in Game of Thrones, there’s something in the eyes. You go, ‘He’s special.’
“There’s something going on there that is truly frightening, but intelligent. That’s really scary.”
Stallone praises the efforts of Marvel and DC, who have “really pushed the [superhero] universe to the max”, but says the main appeal of Samaritan for him as both an actor and filmmaker was the entirely new world it was set in, which is rooted in realism (at least as much as a superhero movie can be).
“I mean, everything that you could possibly imagine, has been created,” he tells. “I always feel there is nothing quite as relatable as almost getting hit by a car, or walking down a dark alley and there’s a shadow coming behind you. That’s very relatable.
“So what I’m trying to say, in my awkward way, is that we try to make the events and the danger plausible – that it could happen to you. It’s something that’s very tangible. It’s not from another universe, it’s right here in the streets. So keep your guard up.
“It’s like what I tell my daughters all the time – life today is one strike baseball, there is no three strikes. It’s like, you gotta be looking all the time. And that’s what I try to add to this, that there’s a sense of impending danger, but it’s real. It’s not way over the top, just a little over the top, a little bit.”
‘Samaritan’ launches globally on Prime Video on August 26