Vin Diesel fronts the latest attempt to jumpstart a comics-inspired cinematic universe in the Valiant actioner Bloodshot, but is it dead on arrival? Mark Harrison finds out.
Between them, Disney and Warner Bros now hold the rights to all but a few of the most well-known superhero properties on the go. You have to go well beyond DC and Marvel before you reach Bloodshot, a superhero created by Kevin VanHook, Don Perlin, and Bob Layton for the Valiant Comics banner in the 1990s. And now, with Vin Diesel producing and playing the title role, the comic is a major motion picture.
Initially conceived as the start of a five-film cinematic universe with a film based on Valiant stablemate Harbinger, (which has since been bought from Sony by Paramount) Bloodshot begins with US Marine Ray Garrison (Diesel) coming home to his wife Gina (Tallulah Riley) after a successful mission, only for the happy couple to be kidnapped and murdered by an unknown psycho (Toby Kebbell).
The next thing Ray knows, he’s been donated to the nanotech pioneers at Rising Spirit Technology, who revive him by replacing his blood with microscopic nanites at the expense of his memories. As well as resurrecting him, the tech grants him abilities ranging from enhanced strength to instant healing. His benefactor, Dr Emil Harting, (Guy Pearce) wants to channel his nascent superpowers into more productive channels, but as he discovers a thirst for vengeance, Ray has other ideas.
In this marketplace, to compare this to other superhero movies is a folly. Plus, Bloodshot borrows so blatantly from so many superhero movies (we counted Deadpool, Iron Man 3, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and even Unbreakable, all in the first 40 minutes or so) that it’s quicker to stack it up against other Vin Diesel actioners anyway. On those terms, it comfortably outstrips recent fare like The Last Witch Hunter, even if it falls lightyears short of the heyday of Pitch Black.
Alas, it is utterly locked in as a Vin Diesel movie very early on – arguably, its fate is sealed from the moment that Ray takes off his military jacket to reveal an implausibly sparkling white vest of the kind Dominic Toretto got wed in during an emotional flashback in Fast & Furious 7. With that franchise’s fight quotas and stipulated toughness still so fresh in our memories, this looks and feels like un film de Vin Diesel, but what’s tantalising about it is that it doesn’t always necessarily quack like one.
From its early, obvious but insidious use of a Talking Heads number to the cracking moment at around the 40-minute mark, (which this reviewer didn’t manage to have spoiled by the trailer, so that was nice) there are moments where this seems poised to break out into something less mediocre. The script, credited to Jeff Wadlow and Eric Heisserer, occasionally wants to go off-road, but like any Diesel vehicle, this won’t get far on anything else.
Though not exactly known for his range, Diesel can be great when deployed correctly. Here, he makes Ray’s inner turmoil feel utterly anaemic, with his unmistakable rumbly grumble mowing down dialogue more often than feeling it. On the other hand, Pearce seems penned in by a role that recalls two vastly different previous films of his, both at the same time.
At least there are fun supporting roles for Eiza González and Lamorne Morris, both of whom seem to have stopped by on their way to bigger and better things. While González breathes some life into an underwritten part, the always hilarious Morris arrives in the second act and more or less carries the whole movie away by sheer force of personality. On a similar arc, composer Steve Jablonsky has written better music for worse action movies, but his score is a welcome addition here.
On either side of that central passage in which it looks as if the film is suddenly going to pivot elsewhere, it’s very much business as usual. Without the big VFX budget of a tentpole movie, the reliance on CG-skirmishes turns the third act into an unappealing visual fiasco of the sort we haven’t missed at all. The climax truly pales in comparison with feature debut director David S.F. Wilson’s early, more creative compositions, such as a showdown in the flour-covered wreckage of an overturned lorry or a hauntingly beautiful underwater sequence involving González’s character. Ultimately, it all feels a little in the end like an opportunity missed.
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