45 minutes into Bloodshot I finally figured out what the movie was: Memento…for morons. But, it’s a Vin Diesel movie, so dimwitted comes with the territory. And to be fair, some of its stupidity is on purpose (more on that later), but as comic book/sci-fi/action/blockbusters go, it mostly disappoints.
Diesel stars as military man Ray Garrison, who has so few character traits, I never even learned his name. Thank goodness for IMDb. After a successful, and anemically PG-13, hostage mission in Kenya, Ray jets to Italy (I hope he brought his surgical mask) for a night of passion with his wife, Gina (Talulah Riley). The next morning he’s attacked, drugged, and captured by mysterious villains. He’s forced to watch as his wife is murdered, and after swearing revenge, suffers the same fate. This takes circa 15 minutes…and then we finally get opening credits.
After the above the line talent is dutifully acknowledged, Ray wakes up in a high tech facility called RST, Rising Spirit Technologies. He’s been brought back from the dead by the facility’s creator, Dr. Emil Harting (bro, IMDb, seriously) played by Guy Pearce, a super genius who works with Nanotechnology and robotic exoskeletons. Ray’s been enhanced with said Nanotech, microscopic robots that heal him as soon as he’s wounded and that also, somehow, give him super strength. Oh and he can also hack into computer systems with his brain…or something. Look, explanations are not the movie’s strong suit. Amnesiac at first, he soon recalls the events that brought him to superpowerhood and jets after the villains for some not-so-bloody revenge (PG-13, remember?). What follows is about 45 minutes of misdirection that the film’s trailer happily gives away in 2.
Bloodshot is based on a comic book, but it’s the kind of comic book movie that’s too embarrassed to embrace its source material. I don’t know much about the Valiant comic the film is based on, but I do know that Bloodshot is supposed to be a gray (silver?) looking dude with a big red circle in the middle of his ripped chest. This Bloodshot is too cool for that, so the superhero looks like, um, Vin Diesel in a tank top. Oh sure, the filmmakers make a few half-hearted allusions to the original character design. When overexerted, he overheats and his chest begins to glow red. At the end, he walks through an explosion and is covered in dust, giving him a momentary grayish appearance. After 10 years of the Marvel Universe, comic book movies seemed to have gotten over the fear of being dorky. Somebody should tell Vin Diesel and co.
And when I call Ray a superhero (“Bloodshot” is never uttered, to the best of my knowledge), I use the term lightly. Ray never does anything remotely heroic. He spends the runtime killing people in falsely motivated revenge (spoiler, unless you saw the trailer) and the rest just trying to save himself. He does make friends along the way, and at least Diesel turns down his gruff-o-meter™ just enough to thank them in the end, so his character doesn’t come off like a complete asshole.
But the movie’s another origin tale so blinded by a need to set up its hero that it forgets to give him a story to actually interact with. And the writers, Jeff Wadlow and Eric Heisserer (who gave us the pretty great Arrival), don’t even consider providing him with a proper villain that could remotely threaten him, much less menace the rest of the world. Bloodshot basically plays out like a pilot for a TV show, or in this case, a long setup for sequels that’ll probably never happen.
The movie is directed by Dave Wilson, his first feature after cutting his teeth on special effects and video games. It shows. Wilson clearly has a hard-on for Michael Bay (one character has a Bad Boys poster on their desk) and tries to emulate his sensibilities (insofar as Michael Bay can be considered having sense), copying his shot compositions, but doing it poorly. Objects appear in the foreground, out of focus, ostensibly to create a sense of depth, but they take up too much of the frame, obscuring what we’re supposed to be paying attention to, which is often in soft focus itself. Much of the movie feels like it’s happening off-camera, as if the action is seen through the eyes of a narcoleptic bystander.
Diesel, with his revving engine voice, employs his usual two extremes of facial expressions throughout: nostril-flaring anger, as if he can barely breathe through his nose and, in softer moments, the look of a puppy who’s just been smacked on the ass with a rolled-up newspaper after pissing the rug. His schtick is getting old.
But, fine, the movie’s not as tedious as it could have been, especially considering the setup, and every once in a while the action has a moment or two of memorable over-the-top slow-motion or choreography, even if the latter can be barely glimpsed. And then there’s the unintentional humor, like the director’s insistence on randomly cutting to people’s feet (though, mostly shoe covered feet, so, not in a creepy Quentin Tarantino way or anything), or the script’s insistence that it’s clever because it admits that it’s stupid and filled with clichés.
So I wasn’t exactly in pain watching Bloodshot, but I wasn’t exactly entertained either. By the time the movie finished up with an action finale that’s basically Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Idiots, I was left with only one nagging question: What the f*ck is Guy Pierce doing in this shit?