For kids, "bad" vs. "good" is often a very black-and-white issue (at least in the movies), but, in both story and quality, Samaritan is a superhero story that's saturated in gray. Most kids today don't know a media world without powered heroes. And while characters like Black Widow, the Scarlet Witch, Harley Quinn, and Deadpool have complicated pasts or fluctuate between doing right and wrong, there's also a glossy, commercial, even jokey packaging to them. Their otherworldliness can create a barrier to positive messaging. Samaritan overcomes this obstacle by introducing a kid character who's stepping into a criminal world with the best of intentions: to help his mother keep a roof over their head. This clearly isn't Gotham or Metropolis, where buildings are constantly destroyed without thought; Granite City is a realistic urban landscape. And garbage man Joe Smith (Stallone), who may or may not be the reclusive hero Samaritan, doesn't have the coiffed hair, shiny sheen, or slick costume that typically accompanies movie superheroes. All of those elements create better conditions for the movie's message to be received, understood, and acted upon: "Humans are all complex beings, and while we may not be able to do anything about our circumstances, we have control over who we are through the choices we make."
The movie's approach to making a superhero film feels different -- and even bold -- but some elements of the storytelling are jarringly inconsistent. With a 13-year-old hero, the movie's target audience would seem to be preteens. But there's a lot of profanity and frequent moments of intense violence, including members of a gang holding Sam down and hitting him with a wrench, and an explicit depiction of someone being hit by a car. This uncomfortable tonal mix may be the result of an odd writer-director pairing. Screenwriter Bragi F. Schut is best known for writing the animated Ninjago TV series: He has proven expertise in writing for children. But director Julius Avery is known for mature guns-and-aggression action movies. Having never made a film aimed at young viewers before, Avery may not have fully realized that, for kids, make-believe violence can help them cope with their fears, while realistic violence can create new ones.