Bloodshot, the first film in a proposed cinematic universe based on one of Valiant Comics’ flagship characters, raises a lot of questions during its relatively short runtime. Who is Bloodshot? What are the secrets of his past? Should we care? Why is a film about a murderous anti-hero with the world “blood” in his name rated PG-13? This seriously got a theatrical release and isn’t a Netflix original? We only get a few answers, and most of them aren’t always satisfying.
Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) — who is never actually called Bloodshot during the film — is a soldier who was killed alongside his wife after one of Garrison’s missions foiled the plot of an international criminal. He’s saved by Rising Spirit Technologies, who replaces his blood with billions of bio-mechanical nanites that grant him enhanced physical and mental abilities and allow him to regenerate from nearly any injury. Out for vengeance, he goes rogue and must be tracked down by RST’s founder Emil Harting (Guy Pearce), who has his own squad of enhanced super-soldiers at his beck and call.
That’s the most spoiler-free version of the plot that you can probably get. A number of the film’s major plot twists are given away by the film’s trailers, most notably the fact that Ray’s memories from before his enhancement are unreliable and possibly false. But while most films might make this a third-act reveal, this twist comes about 30 minutes in, and instead of Ray discovering it on his own, it’s expositioned for him by another character. It initially comes off as lazy writing, but taken in the broader context of the film and Ray’s story, it becomes…not quite as lazy as you first thought without actually being clever at all.
That kind of defines the script and feel of Bloodshot as a whole. It feels like a movie kind of torn within itself. Whether that’s meant to mimic the internal monologue of Ray/Bloodshot himself or just what happens when the writers of Arrival and Kick-Ass 2 collaborate is up for debate. For every salient point it makes about transhumanism and humanity’s need to use technology for violence, there’s a handful of flat jokes, dude-bro action poses, and clunky, leaden lines of dialogue that make Guy Pearce look embarrassed. The script is full of cliches, which may or may not be metatextual commentary depending on how generous you are.
The film succeeds much more on an audio-visual level than it does on a structural or narrative one. If might be kind of addle-brained and roid-ragey, but it looks pretty damn awesome most of the time. A sequence where Ray faces off against a squad of hit men in a darkened tunnel is the film’s major highlight, lit with bold red and blue lights, dust and smoke flying through the air, Ray’s nanites streaming from his wounds as they furiously work to stitch him back together in real time. It’s more stylish and stylized than the rest of the film, thrilling and captivating in its staging. Every other action scene seems like a let down after it.
Director David S. F. Wilson worked primarily as a director and CG supervisor for video games prior to making his film debut with Bloodshot, and is shows. The opening sequence — despite having some distracting and unnecessary POV shots — comes off as the teaser intro for a pretty kick-ass video game. All the CGI here is rendered quite nicely, especially Ray’s nanites, which tend to form tendrils and clouds around him as he heals. Wilson might not always have the best framing or composition, but his knack for effects and design is impressive.
Bloodshot the character was birthed during the 90s anti-hero craze in comics that also gave us Cable, Deadpool, and Spawn. He’s grim, humorless, and brutal, and that’s about it. So of course, there could be nobody to play him but Vin Diesel. To be fair, Diesel brings his A-game to this role, and he acts very hard in many of his scenes. Diesel doesn’t have the best range as an actor, but he has some definite strengths, and Ray/Bloodshot plays to all of them. The film does give him some quiet moments where his underplayed emotions work well, and he seems extremely dedicated to making the character come alive.
The rest of the cast is a mixed bag, but for the most part don’t drop the ball. Guy Pearce’s performance does seem a bit contractually-obligated, but he’s always pleasant to watch. The most dynamic of his super-soldier lackeys is KT, played with conviction by Eiza Gonzalez. Like Diesel, she seems connected to her character in ways the other cast simply aren’t. Whereas the other soldiers are essentially defined by their particular enhancements and possibly one personality trait, Gonzalez makes KT seems more three-dimensional. The only genuine comedy in the film comes from Lamorne Morris’ whimsical tech genius Wilfred Wigins, who lightens the film considerably when he shows up. While his performance is hampered a little by the script itself and a solid but occasionally-shaky fake British accent, bless him for injecting a little levity into the proceedings.
But regardless of the quality of the VFX or the strength of individual performances, Bloodshot just doesn’t come together the way it should. Its the rare superhero film that seems too short, and we never really learn much about our main character. It’s impact is blunted by its PG-13 rating and need to establish itself. A film about super-powered killing machine isn’t exactly the most family-friendly thing, after all, and the film spends so much time setting up Ray’s origin that it forgets to tell much of a story. It’s also clearly meant as a potential start to a Valiant Comics film franchise, but it doesn’t give us much reason to care about one of it’s biggest and most (relatively) well-known characters.
It’s not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it also isn’t a great one. It probably would have served itself better as a streaming series than a film, where it would have had more time to breathe and explore Ray’s background and struggles. As it is, it’s a nice little diversion, but it’s never really much more than that. Is it weird to think that Vin Diesel deserved better? Yet another question we may never know the answer to.
FBOTU Score: 6 out of 10 / C+