Sylvester Stallone’s upcoming superhero film Samaritan is belatedly casting him in a superhero role after 1978’s Superman was a missed opportunity for him. In Samaritan, Stallone portrays Joe Smith, a modest garbage man who hides a big secret from the world. Through a series of events, a local kid comes to discover that Joe is actually the superhero known as Samaritan, who disappeared decades ago.
The level of superhuman strength and invulnerability Joe is capable of is reminiscent of Superman, though Joe is somewhat more susceptible to injury and pain in his older age. While Joe’s identity as Samaritan does not set up an exact one-to-one parallel with he and Kal-El, the curious commonality with the Man of Steel, along with the sheer fact of Stallone headlining a superhero film with Rocky and Rambo similarities is also a surprising second chance he’s landed. Once upon a time, Stallone might have been the Last Son of Krypton himself.
During the extensive casting process for Richard Donner’s Superman in the late ‘70s, Stallone was considered for the role among hundreds of other actors. Eventually, the then-unknown Christopher Reeve was cast in what became his signature role and one that is still a hallmark of both superhero films and Superman’s character history. Despite not donning Superman’s red cape, Stallone’s role in Samaritan brings him back into Superman’s hemisphere over 40 years later.
Stallone had broken out with Rocky prior to Superman bestowing the cape to Christopher Reeve, and his subsequent career made him one of Hollywood’s quintessential action heroes as John Rambo and Barney Ross of The Expendables franchise. Stallone’s filmography would eventually take him into stories involving superpowers and superheroism. While he entered the comic book movie pool in 1995’s Judge Dredd and later appeared as Stakar Ogord in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and King Shark in The Suicide Squad, Samaritan is an even deeper dive.
In his portrayal of Joe Smith, Stallone takes on the complete package of powers, a heroic backstory, and a secret identity in Samaritan that he would have in Superman. Samaritan is, of course, a superhero deconstruction story with visible influences of the Man of Steel, presenting itself as what an “Old Man Clark”-type of Superman story might look like in the vein of Logan. That only makes the legitimate Stallone Superman that never happened in favor of Christopher Reeve’s Superman into a late-career pay-off for Stallone with Samaritan.
Stallone was a possible candidate for Superman when his career was just starting to take off. That only serves to make his eventual portrayal of a Superman-esque character in Samaritan that much more wild career turn for him. Stallone’s path to playing a Man of Steel might not have been a linear one, but many years after not getting to do so with Superman, it finally came to be with Samaritan.
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