Vin Diesel is a gift from the action gods: a man-bison whose biceps and rasping caveman-like grunt are eclipsed only by his tender earnestness. Not content with the success of 'Fast & Furious', 'xXx: Return Of Xander Cage', and 'The Chronicles of Riddick', he's attempting to launch another vanity action man franchise with 'Bloodshot', based on the superhero comic by lesser-known publisher Valiant Comics.
Ambushed during a romantic getaway on Italy's Amalfi Coast, Marine Ray Garrison (Diesel) can only watch as sadistic terrorist Martin Axe (a barely used Toby Kebbell, 'Destroyer'), dancing to the tune of 'Psycho Killer', uses a gas-powered cattle gun to execute Ray's wife (Talulah Riley, 'Thor: The Dark World'), before putting a bullet in Vin Diesel's shiny dome.
When Ray awakens, our hero is in a high-tech skyscraper HQ with a so-so gym. His mind a foggy haze, Ray reluctantly joins a team of similarly upgraded combat veterans - attractive Katie (Eiza González, 'Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw', 'Alita: Battle Angel'), sneering Jimmy Dalton (Sam Heughan, 'The Spy Who Dumped Me') and blind Tibbs (Alex Hernandez). Enhanced with nanotechnology by Dr Emil Harting (Guy Pearce, playing the Joe Pantoliano role in this Michael Bay remake of 'Memento'), Ray becomes a superhuman, biotech killing machine - Bloodshot.
As Ray trains with his fellow supersoldiers, he struggles to recall anything from his previous years. But when his memories flood back and he remembers the man that killed both him and his wife, he breaks out of the facility hellbent on revenge, only to discover a conspiracy afoot.
During the first 40 minutes of 'Bloodshot', I was actually making a list of clichés in my head that this movie was abusing. Loose cannon killing machine, hot wife with the personality depth of a puddle, eccentric villain kills wife for truly no reason, loose cannon survives, etc. The screenplay has been co-written by Eric Heisserer, whose work on the Ted Chiang adaptation 'Arrival' earned him an Oscar-nomination and whose work on the Josh Malerman adaptation 'Bird Box' did not. 'Bloodshot' does have a twist up its sleeve - a plot turn that actually accounts for some of these familiar genre movie tropes. But it isn't enough to stop the film from being 'Robocop' by way of 'Universal Soldier' by way of 'Hardcore Henry' by way of 'Upgrade' by way of 'Memento', trailing off into infinity. Every theme 'Bloodshot' touches upon - transhumanism, memory loss, the military industrial complex exploiting vets - has been done far better elsewhere.
Not only does 'Bloodshot' borrow from good films, it lazily scoops ideas from Marvel's sludge pile: Bloodshot's glowing chest ('Iron Man'), a soldier out for revenge (not a movie but Netflix's 'The Punisher'), an evil scientist obsessed with transhumanism played by Guy Pearce ('Iron Man'), a brawl in an elevator ('Captain America: The Winter Soldier') with an exoskeleton-enhanced bad guy ('Captain America: Civil War').
So, even with the benefit of the twist, the ride isn't totally enjoyable. Due to the cyclical aspect of the plot, the pacing is really off. There are lengthy sequences of Bloodshot going to kill someone, which is fine, but also not really that interesting considering that the character barely uses his superpowers (he has a wide range of technopathic abilities) outside of healing and punching hard.
Why bother to hire a star who doesn't show up?
The characterisation is slim. As mentioned, Eiza González's Katie is attractive and gets one completely redundant action scene. Guy Pearce has played too many mad scientist roles by now to leave any impression. Sam Heughan plays the same part as Ed Skrein in 'Deadpool'. Lamorne Morris, as benevolent British hacker Wilfred Wigans, was easily the standout for me. The movie immediately improved when his comic relief character showed up.
'Bloodshot' marks the directorial debut of Dave Wilson, who began his career as a visual artist on games like 'BioShock Infinite' and 'Star Wars: The New Republic'. Occasionally, there will be a moment of beauty, like establishing shots of foreign locations and Guy Pearce and Vin Diesel having a virtual tête-à-tête via a neural link. Unfortunately, the majority of the film is marred by restless camera work, too many scenes filmed in boxy medium close-up, and a hodgepodge of visual techniques (slow-mo, fast-mo, slowest-mo, zooms that go through an eyeball into the body so we can watch nano-bots doing nano things).
C'mon, who gives a shit, Jake, I hear you say, do we get to see some goddamn killing? Yes, but it's largely bloodless due to the film's rating. Do we get to watch Diesel's super-powered soldier heal after getting sliced, stabbed, and shot in the damn face? Totally. Do we get to see the more vulnerable Diesel, the one whose love for family and ice-cold Coronas helped elevate the latter-day 'Fast & Furious' films into Hollywood's most earnest franchise?
I usually love schlocky action but, man, it felt like Vin Diesel shot all his scenes in 'Bloodshot' while on his lunch break. Diesel had plenty of charisma in 'Boiler Room', 'Riddick' and 'Find Me Guilty'. Hell, even in 'Fast & Furious', while one-note as fuck, he has some excellent scene presence - 'The Fate of the Furious' rides on the idea that Dominic Toretto is such a badass that they need the last film's bad guy on the team to begin evening out the odds (and he sells that concept well). He was even fun in 'The Last Witch Hunter'. But 'Bloodshot' is clearly a paycheck project, not one that he was particularly passionate about - he barely bothers to change his facial expression or vocal inflection, whether his character is talking about his tender relationship with his wife or killing a tunnel full of cannon-fodder assassins. Why bother to hire a star who doesn't show up?
An R-rating with Paul Verhoeven-level violence or a lead actor who could actually emote could have made this film fun - just look at the wonders Tom Hardy did for 'Venom'. For a mid-to-low budget action film, I would compare 'Bloodshot' to a typical direct-to-DVD or Netflix film where you're moderately entertained while watching it, before forgetting it exists instantly afterwards.