***WARNING! The following contains certain spoilers for Bloodshot!***
Are we tired of comic book movies? No, no we're not. “Superhero fatigue” won't be setting in anytime soon, but it is always nice to see a comic book-inspired film actively defy the trappings set by the mega franchises of Marvel and DC.
While still a Marvel property, 2016's Deadpool flew of the face of everything we'd come to expect from the genre. A year later, Logan (yet another Marvel flick) proved that getting dark and mature (so dark and mature, that you'd land an R-rating) didn't mean you would alienate audiences.
Just last year, Todd Phillips told an intimate Joker origin story that barely featured Bruce Wayne or any popular Batman lore. Nevertheless, it became the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time and nabbed a ton of respected awards, including two Oscars.
And now, we have Bloodshot, Sony's adaptation of the Valiant Comics character created by Kevin VanHook, Don Perlin, and Bob Layton.
He's been around since the early '90s, but is, for all intents and purposes, a comic book dark horse in today's Hollywood landscape.
Bloodshot (real name: Ray Garrison) is relatively unknown in 2020. He certainly doesn't have the household cred of Iron Man or even Rocket Raccoon.
But that's more of (and excuse the pun) a super-power than anything else because Garrison comes with almost no baggage or expectations. Of course, I say that as a person who's never read the comics, but I'm assuming most folks haven't, either.
Just as Bloodshot can walk into an active battle zone without a care in the world (he can self-heal with the help of teeny-tiny robots, but we'll get there), so too can he hit the big screen in a way that fearlessly tries to shake things up. I just wish his first movie stuck to its own subversive agenda.
Helmed by VFX vet Dave Wilson in his feature-length debut, Bloodshot opens during a hostage rescue mission in Mombassa. Seasoned soldier Ray Garrison (the ever-growling Vin Diesel) tricks the bad guy, saves the day, and goes to Italy to make some love to his wife, Gina (Talulah Riley).
In the morning, Ray is drugged and tied up in a slaughterhouse, where baddie Martin Axe (Toby Kebbell) dances to “Psycho Killer” by The Talking Heads before proceeding to kill Gina with that cow thing Anton Chigurh used in No Country for Old Men when Ray can't give him the information he wants. Axe makes a clean job of it and kills Ray for good measure.
Garrison then wakes up with a bloodstream full of healing robots called nanites that make him invincible and he sets off to exact revenge on Axe.
So far, so cliched, right?
I mean, come on—that whole “Psycho Killer” thing was so much better when it was called Mr. Blonde cuts off the cop's ear and douses him with gasoline to “Stuck in the Middle with You” in Reservoir Dogs.
Well, it's funny you should say that because Bloodshot starts out by making you hate it for how predictable the story is and just before you can stand it no longer, the script by Jeff Wadlow (Fantasy Island) Eric Heisserer (Bird Box) literally flips the script on you.
Everything we've been seeing for the first 40 minutes or so is not what we thought it was.
It's some of the most clever screenplay misdirection I've ever seen, but that's where most of my praise stops, unfortunately. When Ray becomes conscious again, he doesn't find himself in Heaven or Hell, although it might as well be the second place for all the manipulation and mental torture he receives.
The afterlife for Mr. Garrison is Rising Spirit Technologies, a groundbreaking robotics company run by Dr. Emil Harding (Guy Pearce once again playing a shifty comic book character), a genius with a robotic arm and so much greed, that he's willing to kill for the Benjamins Don't worry, that's literally all you need to know about him.
Dude's literally got the cure for cancer, but his motivation is that ol' standby: War profiteering.
In fact, pretty much all of the principal players are one-dimensional cut-outs that barely make this movie worth your investment. The concept of dispensing with tired platitudes is mentioned several times throughout the story with a Deadpool-like playfulness, but, paradoxically, Bloodshot never really makes much of an effort to pull itself out of being just another conspiracy/revenge thriller.
Garrison's fellow Frankenstein-esque creations are KT (Eiza González), a soldier with robotic lungs; Jimmy Dalton (Sam Heughan), a soldier with robotic legs; and Tibbs, a soldier with robotic eyes (Alex Hernandez). I literally can't tell you anything beyond those descriptions.
Why is Dalton so sadistic and hate Ray with a burning passion? I haven't the foggiest. He's yet another villain who is entirely forgettable, even though you've got the perfect set-up to explore PTSD and the government's treatment of veterans.
Nope, he's just bad because of…jealousy?
Not even the titular hero (if you can even call him that) has a proper backstory, despite this literally being an origin story. Who was he really before Harding injected nanites into his body? How did he come into the possession of Rising Spirit?
He's an unstoppable killing machine—a super-charged James Howlett/Frank Castle combo meal for the paranoid post-9/11 era—that can hack into any secure server on the planet, but where are the scenes where he comes to terms with and/or hones his near-omnipotent powers?
Just because you don't want to be a cliche, doesn't mean you can skip over important character development. With almost no arc for Garrison beyond him getting angry at being controlled, Bloodshot feels like a woefully incomplete movie.
Sure, you can always fill in Ray's background in sequels (and this film is certainly looking to spark an entire franchise), but you don't really want to leave your audience with questions about the person they're supposed to be rooting for next time around.
Add in Diesel's extremely gruff delivery that makes certain lines of the dialogue hard to hear, and you've got something of a dilemma on your hands.
The origin story must always give us a firm impression of who our hero is, where they've been, how they've grown, and how they'll use their crucial superhero-ing lessons in the future. You can't just leave your franchise trajectory in the wind.
The only people seeming to have a good time are the criminally underused Kebbell (Servant) and Lamorne Morris (New Girl). The latter plays Wilfred Wigans, a lo mein-loving and wisecracking computer prodigy, who is responsible for most of the movie's comedic relief.
Oh, and there's also a pretty solid (no pun intended) dick joke about one of Harding's programmers wanting to enhance his penis with the company's life-saving tech. As low-brow as that sounds, it's not the worst phallus gag out there.
Narrative shortcomings aside, Bloodshot still looks pretty cool. Wilson (whose VFX credits include Avengers: Age of Ultron and BioShock Infinite) knows how to create an enjoyably bombastic action sequence, even when some of his shots are insanely tight close-ups for some reason.
A red-tinged massacre in a murky tunnel a quarter of the way through and an elevator-based skirmish in the final climax are pretty fun to watch, especially when Dalton dons a Doctor Octopus-like doohickey made of mechanical arms. The effects of the nanites knitting Ray's body back together after he sustains critical damage are also pretty wicked to behold.
Lastly, the realistic and slightly gritty cinematography by The Purge alum, Jacques Jouffret, makes a nice change of visual pace from the established palettes and aesthetics used by other comic book projects.
With no mid or post-credits scenes to speak of (it's possible that Sony is waiting to see the box office numbers before setting up future entries), Bloodshot certainly wants to be different. It does succeed on that front for a hot second, but then forgets (or worse, refuses) to be original once the big twist is revealed.
Sleight of hand is fine, but once the smoke and mirrors are taken away, you need something substantial to take their place.
I've been super harsh in this review, but I don't think Bloodshot is completely irredeemable. It's entertaining and engaging enough, and as much as I may seem to hate on the movie, I'd actually like to see where the character could go in future sequels. I even feel compelled to start reading the comics now.
That's not exactly a perfect nanite patch-up job, but it's the best I can do under the circumstances.
Bloodshot opens in theaters everywhere this Friday, March 13.