Flop Goes the Diesel
Bloodshot has the dubious honor of being the last movie I saw in theaters before the Coronavirus shutdown. I knew that theaters in my area were due to close the next day, and I was so desperate for one last classic moviegoing experience that even the blandest piece of trash would do.
Enter Bloodshot. Based on a lesser-known comic book, it charts the transformation of Marine Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) into the titular superhero. After a completing a successful raid in Mombasa, Garrison and his wife Gina (Talulah Riley) are kidnapped by psychotic mercenary Martin Axe (Toby Kebbell), who tortures Garrison for information about the mission and then kills them both. Sometime later, Ray finds himself resurrected courtesy of RST, a cyber-augmentation company specializing in enhancing military personnel. The company’s CEO, Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce), tells the amnesia-suffering Garrison that he’s the first dead soldier they’ve successfully brought back to life, as well as imbued with miraculous healing abilities courtesy of nanobots in Ray’s bloodstream. After Ray regains his memory he quickly gets his revenge on Axe, but when he returns to RST, something seems fishy.
Bloodshot’s storytelling is mostly competent, but its plot offers no surprises whatsoever. This is never more apparent than when Harting and co. are revealed to be the real villains, having repeatedly given Ray false memories to manipulate him into assassinating their clients’ targets. Even if the twist hadn’t been spoiled by trailers, it would still be easy to see coming; the movie naïvely expects us to believe that it kills off its main villain in the first half hour. This “don’t think about it” philosophy also informs the story’s finer details, like the casual hand-waving reveal that Garrison’s improved brain can access the world’s computer databases with blistering speed.
All of this nonsense would be fine, even desirable, if Bloodshot was over-the-top camp, but it isn’t anywhere near as fun as it needs to be. From Diesel’s grumbly earnestness to the dour, undercooked drama of the Gina subplot, much of the proceedings are bafflingly po-faced, forgetting for large stretches that they’re part of a movie whose hero can recover from a bullet to the face within seconds.
Sometimes the movie strikes that elusive note of delightfully cheesy melodrama, such as a heated and stunningly shallow debate between Pearce and Diesel over the value of free will (which, naturally, takes place inside Diesel’s brain). Pearce gives the movie’s best performance, never hamming it up too much but displaying a twinkle in his eye which reassures us he’s fully aware of the kind of movie he’s in and isn’t taking any of it too seriously. At one point he gets to deliver the immortal cliché, “You just don’t get it, do you?”, and the fact that it elicits a smile rather than a groan sums up his slumming-it appeal. Lamorne Morris is another welcome presence, providing most of the movie’s intentional laughs as Wilfred, a fast-talking computer genius who comes to Ray’s aid.
As yet another attempt at a Vin Diesel franchise-starter, Bloodshot’s biggest selling point is its action. But the movie is a letdown here as well, its decent CGI effects failing to spice up an otherwise standard collection of shootouts and car chases. The PG-13 rating doesn’t help either, blunting what should be the most visceral scenes with sanitized violence and demure cutaways. Bloodshot manages to come alive in its finale, at last offering up some relatively fresh thrills. The climactic fight, set in a transparent elevator shaft on the side of a skyscraper and pitting Diesel against a henchman with two additional robotic arms, is an impressively staged piece of gravity-defying spectacle. One suspects the budget prevented any other scenes of this magnitude, but the creativity on display would have been welcome in the more modest sequences – and for that matter, the rest of the movie.