A slain U.S Marine is re-animated with superpowers by a mysterious company specialising in augmenting humans.
Valiant Comics aren’t a household name like Marvel or DC, but they’ve been around since 1989 and successfully relaunched in 2012 with the Valiant Comics universe of titles. Bloodshot has been one of their most popular characters since he was introduced in 1992, with Sony now behind this live-action adaptation intended to launch a shared universe of Valiant heroes and villains.
Bloodshot concerns Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel), a U.S Marine who’s kidnapped by a group of mercenaries led by Martin Axe (Toby Kebbel) during a holiday on Italy’s Amalfi Coast with his wife Gina (Talulah Riley). Axe wants intel on Ray’s recent covert operation in Mombasa, which Ray can’t provide, resulting in him and his wife being murdered. However, Ray is resurrected by Rising Spirit Tech, a clandestine company run by Dr Emil Harting (Guy Pearce) that specialises in augmenting people. Alive but with no memory of his previous life and recent tragedy, Ray must learn to adapt to his new situation now his blood’s teeming with microscopic nanites that give him incredible strength and super-fast healing.
It’s generic comic-book stuff and might produce a reflexive yawn even from fans of superheroes. Bloodshot could be considered RoboCop (1987) meets Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), although it’s nowhere close to being as intelligent, humorous, or as memorable as either. Co-written by Eric Heisserer (the poorly-received remakes of A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Thing) and Jeff Wadlow (Kick-Ass 2, Fantasy Island), those early warning signs are exacerbated by the presence of a first-time director in David S.F Wilson (who cut his teeth making video-game cinematics for Blur Studio, such as Mass Effect 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic). It feels like this is the kind of lazy project thrown their way by a fledgeling studio aiming to make a big impact the cheapest way, as Bloodshot doesn’t appear to require more than a workmanlike approach to filmmaking to get the job done. But when one considers Marvel risked giving Jon Favreau a shot with Iron Man (2008), who had at least made Swingers (1996) and Elf (2003) before then, that seems shortsighted.
Unfortunately, everything interesting about Bloodshot is torn from the pages of the comic-books, so the movie is otherwise a generic adaptation of some basic elements. Wilson doesn’t do a terrible job considering this is his first movie, but it’s like he’s imitating a Tony Scott or Michael Bay movie, but with a middling $45M budget to work with. The music composer is also Steve Jablonsky (who worked on Bay’s Transformers films), which perhaps makes those comparisons more noticeable during many sequences.
Vin Diesel is an action movie actor who never quite went stratospheric after his breakthrough in low-budget sci-fi Pitch Black (2000) and, to a lesser extent, xXx (2002). The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) was met with unwarranted ridicule despite its inventiveness, while The Fast and the Furious (2001) obviously became a phenomenon, but only later into its lifespan. I don’t the F&F movies work purely because of Diesel’s presence, but it’s a franchise now sustaining his career, enabling him to try and keep his xXx and Pitch Black characters alive with tardy and cheaper sequels of their own. I appreciate Diesel trying to get new properties off the ground, and for how he’s shamelessly a musclebound nerd at heart, but it’s a shame all his characters are variations on the same gruff machismo. This is true of many action stars, of course, but at one point it felt like Vin Diesel had more talent and could deliver richer performances with the right material.
And it’s also becoming mildly off-putting to see a guy now in his early-fifties trying to pretend he’s still in his mid-thirties. All of that’s a roundabout way to say that Diesel’s Bloodshot is much like Xander Cage or Richard B. Riddick or Dominic Toretto, only with magic blood powers.
The elephant in the room with Bloodshot (for those who’ve seen it, or know the basics of the comic-book) is that there’s a bold twist about a third of the way through. And it’s one that helps salvage earlier missteps by smartly re-contextualising them, before spinning things into a new direction. The strange thing about Bloodshot is how such a big reveal fails to blow your mind as intended, as you’re past caring about anything by the time it happens. But the twist does enough to make you reassess your feelings about the film up until that point and stick with it longer, even if things ultimately continue down a different path in an equally boring way.
The action isn’t bad, with a few creative moments sprinkled about, but nothing that ever has you gripped to your seat. And the climactic fight on an external elevator against a paraplegic man (Outlander’s Sam Heughan) wearing a mechanical endoskeleton, resembling a Doctor Octopus knockoff, suffers from VFX that looks like computers started their processing in 2004.
Guy Pearce, who replaced Michael Sheen, may go through the motions as the doctor who changes Ray’s life, but his performance is better than the movie deserves. Eiza González (Baby Driver) plays KT, the beautiful love-interest who’s young enough to be Diesel’s daughter, augmented herself with a clavicle breathing device. Strangely, the rest of the cast appears to be full of well-known British actors (Heughan, Kebbell), ones pretending to be British (Lamorne Morris as a geek who helps Ray), or ones with background roles and thick cockney accents. I started to think there must be a UK connection to the movie because of all the British brogues floating around, but can only imagine there’s a lot of cheap UK talent down in South Africa, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, where the film was shot.
As one of the most prominent cinema releases hastened to video-on-demand in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, Bloodshot actually feels more at home on the small screen. It’s a millennial throwback that’s likely to appeal to middle-aged people who reminisce about the pre-Marvel Studio state of superhero movies, where muscle men got superpowers that enable them to punch chunks out of concrete pillars. It’s humourless and lacks smart characterisations and enough sense of scale, but the twist does enough to revive your interest and there are a few diverting action sequences. But Bloodshot is unlikely to launch a shared universe of Valiant comic-book heroes, as it’s so clearly few decades behind the curve.
director: David S.F Wilson.
writers: Jeff Wadlow & Eric Heisserer (story by Jeff Wadlow, based on characters created by Kevin VanHook, Don Perlin & Bob Layton).
starring: Vin Diesel, Eiza González, Sam Heughan, Toby Kebbell, Guy Pearce, Talulah Riley & Lamorne Morris.