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Samson Reviews

Pure Flix, the independent Christian movie studio behind God’s Not Dead and The Case for Christ, takes a stab at making a sword-and-sandal picture with Samson. Unfortunately, it fails as both a religious film and an epic genre flick. It is a bland, chaste regurgitation of the Hollywood-concocted love story from Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah, sprinkled with moralizing that doesn’t always align with the biblical story of Samson.   Samson’s tale comes from the Book of Judges in the Old Testament, and is ultimately a tragedy about disobeying God and giving in to lust and rage. Before he was born, an angel prophesied to Samson’s parents that their son would deliver Israel from the Philistines, their oppressors. In the text and the movie, Samson is utterly unlikeable because he chooses to ignore this fact, the advice of his family, the plight of his people, and the wrath of God because of a hot Philistine woman -- not once, but twice. And while the Bible makes it clear that this is because of lust, the film tries to convince the audience through weak montages that he’s fallen in love with these two-dimensional women, who are also inexplicably in love with this selfish, bland beefcake. Instead of presenting Samson as a deeply flawed individual who was still able to redeem himself and serve God, the film’s narration at the beginning and end merely sugarcoats him as a “good man” who “fulfilled (God’s) promise” -- despite Samson failing to actually deliver his people from the Philistines.   Other non-Biblical additions include the characters of King Balek (Titanic’s Billy Zane) and his son, Prince Rallah (Twilight’s Jackson Rathbone), who are meant to serve as more direct villains than are present in the sparse original story. The characters mostly make the plot more convoluted (Rallah wants Samson dead more than anything, but decamps to Egypt for 20 years with little explanation), but Rathbone and Zane do their best to give viewers a variety of evil sneers. The rest of the supporting cast are a mix of wasted vets and relative newcomers, who are predominantly white and blue-eyed, wearing lots of bronzer and eyeliner, and attempting affected British lilts (all things Samson regrettably has in common with 1949’s Samson and Delilah). The one exception is Taylor James, who plays the titular strongman. He fits the part in more ways than one, as he’s able to bust out a killer charming smile as well as glistening muscles during fight scenes. Despite James’ flashes of charisma, the cast around him can’t seem to bring any real emotion or tension to the uninspired script and bloated story line.   One thing Pure Flix does impress with is the way Samson ups the game for Christian film studios, which until this point have stuck primarily to modern-day dramas with their theatrical releases. The movie, which was filmed in South Africa, includes gorgeous landscape shots, gaggles of extras, a fight scene that includes both a real and a puppet lion, and some surprisingly impressive battle choreography. While not masterful, it is certainly elevated above a made-for-TV movie or a rerun of Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules.   It’s hard not to compare this adaptation of an ancient figure with another movie hero sharing the same release date: Black Panther. While Marvel’s Black Panther is set to make history and inspire millions as he grapples with his own destiny as the protector of his people, Samson’s story seems stuck in the past, clinging to expected, ineffective cinematic tropes to teach watered-down Sunday-school lessons instead of saying anything new of value.