Bloodshot is a new Vin Diesel action movie that was based on a 1992 Valiant comic book of the same name, optioned by Sony in 2015 with a plan to turn it into “an R-rated adaptation that will be tonally and aesthetically influenced by high-concept, sci-fi blockbusters of the late ’80s including Robocop, Terminator, and Total Recall.”
The concept is that Diesel’s character, Ray Garrison, is a special forces soldier (introduced in your typical jargon-filled military action cold opening — LT! On my six! Secure a perimeter! Double-tap!) who gets killed and then resurrected with the help of nanobots in his blood (hence, Bloodshot) and turned into an undead, instantly-healing, super cyber assassin. He has super strength and can surf computer networks instantly with his brain, a neat trick that allows him to locate bad guys anywhere in the world and teach himself how to fly planes in an instant. He also has the toughness of a troop and the voice of a guy who just woke up from a long nap.
Every time he dies he wakes up in a lab surrounded by a team of fellow enhanced soldiers, including a prick with robot legs played by Sam Heughan and a sympathetic lady who can breathe underwater played by Eiza González, who looks exactly like a sex robot from the future. Garrison — played doughily by Diesel with his usual gravel-throated pith — is on a mission to avenge his absurdly beautiful and comically underwritten English wife, Gina, played by Talulah Riley (side note: are British women ever named “Gina?”). Only it turns out, someone may just be screwing with Garrison’s memories. The concept owes a debt to Edge of Tomorrow and Memento, the latter of which Bloodshot winks at by casting in a major role Guy Pearce, the star of Memento.
Bloodshot is, quite obviously, a mash-up of other sci-fi action movies. That’s fine on the face of it, this premise is clever enough. Commando, Robocop, and Total Recall weren’t the first movies about giant buff guys or robots or giant buff guys playing robots trying to avenge their beautiful sexpot wives through a haze of bad memories either; that didn’t make them any less awesome. What they had was panache, stars with charisma, and visual style. Bloodshot has panache, and we could debate the proper use of Sir Vinneth Diesel, but it certainly doesn’t have the last.
It’s apparent early on that director Dave Wilson, a longtime visual effects supervisor, mostly on videogames, and business partner of Deadpool director Tim Miller, might not be up to this challenge. When Garrison arrives on the tarmac fresh from a mission double-tapping terrorists in Mombasa, he embraces his wife, her blonde tresses flowing in the morning breeze. The shot of their embrace and her wedding ring is supposed to communicate the whole story of their relationship, and does so about as subtly as the sledgehammer Diesel used to smash Letty’s tombstone in Furious 7 (and not nearly as awesomely). It’s porny close up after porny close-up, which will become a theme.
I saw Bloodshot on a giant IMAX screen, where many of its smartly conceived stunts should’ve been a wonder to behold. Instead, they were rendered inert thanks to Wilson’s weird penchant for the chaotic close-up. Are we really still doing this?
This is a film that’s almost certainly going to get called “dumb” or “uneven” or “derivative,” but that’s not really the point. Sci-fi action movies are allowed to be dumb. Some of the best ones are extremely dumb. It’s just that they’re the right kind of dumb. Or at least, dumb in the right places. The plots of these kinds of movies are like the plots of pornos, to some degree. They’re meant to move us breezily between the big fun scenes that get us off. Movies shot like Bloodshot, where the heroes and bad guys smash and crash into each other quickly, loudly, blurrily, where we only grasp how they’re moving after the fact (blur-blur-blur VIN DIESEL’S FIST SMASHING THROUGH A WINDOW blur-blur-blur…) are like trying to watch pixelated porn. We can’t see the money shot so we’re left thinking “Gee, this plot sure is dumb. And God, how many times have we seen a hero who comes to fix the cable?”
There were a lot of pretty good ideas that went into Bloodshot — like nano-enhanced Vin Diesel fighting a guy with giant robot arms in the external elevator shaft of a high rise in Kuala Lumpur. Even just writing that now it sounds like it would be incredible. But Bloodshot‘s bad composition doesn’t give us enough space to appreciate its cleverest conceits. It trades lucid composition for “emotional truth,” but mostly it conveys the emotion of someone throwing energy drinks at your head. If you want to see what a fun movie about a cybernetically-enhanced action hero looks like, try Upgrade.