Samaritan is a fun superhero yarn. In superhero comics, you can’t look too close at the underlying logic; if you do, you lose suspension of disbelief needed to immerse yourself in the story. In Samaritan, you’re given a quick history you can’t look at too closely. Two brothers, who John (Stallone) describes as “genetic freaks” are super-strong and tough and heal fast. A family tragedy is sketched; a mob tries to kill them in their home with fire as kids, succeeding only in killing their parents. Both of them become vigilantes, one Samaritan and the other Nemesis—and promptly become each other’s sworn enemy since Samaritan insists on fighting the “criminal element” that violently victimizes others while Nemesis has his sights set on the “true criminals” in society, the system and establishment that grinds people down. Their philosophical difference means Nemesis is a supervillain in Samaritan’s eyes, and in the eyes of all law-and-order types, but Nemesis is idealized by those who believe the whole system is corrupt and needs to burn. Finally the two of them meet in climactic battle where both are presumably killed (only their masks and Nemesis’ signature weapon are found in the burned out rubble).
That’s all backstory, and I won’t go into the movie’s plot since I don’t want to spoil it for you. All you need to know is it takes place twenty-five years later, involving a suspiciously superhuman “John Smith,” a city getting ground down by economic hardship and runaway crime and homelessness, and a new bad guy who wants to finish what Nemesis started; tear it all down.
Samaritan is an excellent study in superhero personae, starting with the names: Samaritan and Nemesis. Samaritan, of course, invokes the Good Samaritan of Jesus’ parable of a man who goes to great lengths to help a complete stranger who is the victim of a brutal robbery in answer to the question “Who is my brother?” It’s a wholly positive image of heroism. Nemesis, on the other hand, invokes irresistible enmity. “Nemesis” literally means “one that inflicts retribution or vengeance.” We know that Nemesis called Samaritan “a cop,” and could always count on drawing Samaritan out to battle by threatening others.
So, a clear-cut battle of Good vs. Evil, right? Not so much. I have to say the writers were brilliant for giving the two brothers a shared origin. The same origin created both a superhero and a supervillain, and this speaks to the theme of the tale. As John Smith puts it late in the show, “Let me tell you something, kid. If it was only bad people doing bad things, it would 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 up to you, to make the right choice.” You get a gold star if you recognize what quote that’s a paraphrase of, and he says it to a kid who idealizes Samaritan but who is himself a petty criminal.
But enough, I don’t want to spoil it, so I’ll just say see it as soon as you can.