Seeing a new Vin Diesel movie brings me joy. They’re usually not gonna be as good as FAST FIVE or RIDDICK, but I can live with that. It doesn’t even need the heart. It can just have the silliness. I can still love a CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK or a xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE. Even seeing a middling one like THE LAST WITCH HUNTER on the big screen (usually without many other people in the theater) is an enriching experience for me.
In many ways Diesel is a throwback. Some people think he’s arrogant and dumb, and that perception (whether true or false) connects him with the action icons of the ‘80s and ‘90s. So does his vanity when it comes to his bodybuilding and the outsized awesomeness of his characters (both in battle and in love). But beneath the macho posturing is a sincere passion for what he sees as the integrity of his creations, for better or worse. He has left and returned to two franchises of his own accord. He’s turned his supporting character in a minor cult movie into an improbable sci-fi franchise, at one point mortgaging his house to somehow keep it going. He’s adapted his Dungeons & Dragons character into a major motion picture. With one performance he turned a silly drag race exploitation movie into a smash hit, and with 20 years of diligence he shepherded its sequels into a massive pop culture institution. So even something like BLOODSHOT – which looked pretty cheesy and lost a ton of shine when the JOHN WICK directors left and a guy who previously just worked in video games (David S.F. Wilson) took over – is an event for me.
BLOODSHOT was a movie I would see on opening day, for sure. Or, you know… barring catastrophe. Like for example a global pandemic. March 13th was about two weeks after the first known American Covid-19 deaths happened in a nursing home not much more than ten miles from here. And in that time I’d been reading about what had happened in other countries, what we should be doing here, what we knew or thought we knew about the virus, what we didn’t know, and I was getting more anxious. It seemed like Covid could be on any surface, and I didn’t know what I’d do if I sat in the theater and somebody behind me started coughing. That had been happening on the bus, and I always seem to have the talking guy right behind me at movies, so it seemed just my luck.
So that Friday morning was officially the day that it sunk in for me that life would have to be different for a while. We would have to sacrifice some truly important things, like hearing Vin Diesel’s growl in Dolby Atmos, if we valued human life. “For the time being I have decided to honor the science community’s pleas for us to stay home as much as possible over my dedication to theatrical viewing of off-brand Vin Diesel vehicles.” (source: my Twitter account.)
So it played unusually empty theaters, it went to digital early, then disc early, and there it has been sitting, a spectre of the regular life we’ve been denied for nearly 9 months so far. But now I have faced it. I have looked it in the eye.
Okay, that’s a pretty dramatic lead up to me saying that BLOODSHOT is not very good, but also I kind of enjoyed it, somewhat, in my living room, alternating between turning it up because I didn’t hear what he said and turning it down so the neighbors don’t get mad about the gun shots. Vin Diesel (FIND ME GUILTY) stars as Ray Garrison, special ops soldier of a certain age (not acknowledged) introduced with one of those cold-open-geared-up-war-zone-hostage-rescue scenes. I appreciate that they at least set it in Kenya instead of Afghanistan. But it’s the same shit.
He shoots people, saves the day and comes home to his loving wife Gina (Talulah Riley, INCEPTION), who lays around in bed with him and is sad that he goes off to wars and shit all the time. “I always come home,” he brags.
But suddenly some dudes attack him at his house and he wakes up tied up in a meat locker, captive of a guy apparently called Martin Axe, played by Toby Kebbell (THE HURRICANE HEIST), who I always enjoy. Here he makes an impression by wearing flip flops and doing a little dance before threatening Ray and then killing his wife in front of him.
Ray screams for bloody vengeance, gets shot, and wakes up with most of his memory gone, laying in the cutting edge private laboratory of Rising Spirit Tech’s Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce, LOCKOUT), who has sort of a UNIVERSAL-SOLDIER-meets-ROBOCOP-remake deal going – he takes injured soldiers (including the unclaimed dead, like Ray) and rebuilds them with cyborg parts. He himself has a robot arm. Sidekick K.T. (Eiza Gonzalez, BABY DRIVER) has something that replaces her lungs, which gives her a cool power of being able to breathe underwater or in clouds of poison gas. And Ray is top of the line – his cells have been replaced by nanites that look like robotic STARSHIP TROOPERS bugs. Now he’s real strong and if he gets wounded his flesh breaks apart like metal shavings and then come back together. And he can mentally log into databases to get information or track people. Basically, he’s a T-1000 that can’t disguise himself or turn his hands into knives or drip between prison bars. T-1000 Express. T-1000 Elements.
I like the “discovering his powers” scenes. He seems less interested in weird nano tricks than in punching concrete walls and doing curls with giant barbells. Also, one thing about Ray that I suspect is also true about Vin Diesel, is that he’s the kind of guy who can meet a doctor and immediately feel comfortable calling him “Doc” instead of learning his name.
There’s a big problem with this story that partly comes down to marketing, but I think it was a mistake to structure it this way. The premise of the movie, as presented in the trailers that I saw over and over again for months, is revealed in a twist that doesn’t happen until almost exactly 45 minutes into the movie. Ray sneaks away to track down Martin Axe and get his revenge. Dr. Harting begs him not to do it, tries to talk some sense into him, that’s not what this is about, etc. But after he kills him he wakes up with no memory again, because this was all a put on. Dr. Harting is using him as an assassin, falsifying his memories to make him think the targets killed his wife and must be avenged.
1. This seems to come from the Valiant brand comic books this is based on, so we can’t accuse them of ripping off UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING.
2. Thankfully the GROUNDHOG DAY style repeated song thing from the trailer [using Johnny Cash’s version of “Memories”] is not in the movie.)
It’s a drag to spend that long watching the set up for a concept that we already had explained to us as the premise of the movie, but the real sin is that there’s still another twenty minutes of screen time before Ray learns what’s going on. Though this seems intended as the usual Vin Diesel Most Awesome Guy of All Time type of character, he is strongly lacking that important trait of always being ahead of the game. For 60% of the movie he’s behind not only everyone who saw the trailer, but every other character in the movie. So even when the action parts are cool we can’t get properly pumped up because we know he’s been tricked into doing something bad.
The best stuff is in the last stretch, after the cards are finally laid out. K.T. goes rogue to help Ray, as does one of two comic relief computer nerd characters, Lamorne Morris (THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES) as former child genius Wilfred Wigans. Wigans is kind of funny in a formulaic way, and K.T. is sort of likable even though she approaches all her asskicking scenes with an overly self conscious Terminator-meets-runway-model intensity. I guess Diesel does the same, but his nanites sometimes give him glowing eyes and E.T. heartlight, so he doesn’t have many other options.
The villains are not good enough to elevate the character of Ray. Kebbell is out of the picture quick (though apparently named after a villain from the comics). I certainly did hate the gum-chewing douchery of Jimmy (Sam Heughan, Outlander), and his robotic extendo-arms are pretty cool, but he seems more like he should be a fourth string henchman than the primary physical threat. Pearce’s performance is good and adds at least a tiny whiff of meaning to the proceedings (because he’s an amoral tech guy who seems to honestly believe he’s not evil) but he’s not colorful enough to spark when butting heads with a Vin Diesel character, let alone a super-powered cyborg zombie or whatever.
This is more in the world of super hero cinema than it is the Furiousverse, so most of the spectacle is FX stuff with his body doing weird things or flying through the air. Some of it is kind of funny/cool, but mostly it has that feeling of a bunch of money shots you saw in too many trailers, whether or not you really did. It’s weird that the action climax is a super powered fight involving a skyscraper and elevator that’s very similar and not necessarily as good as a pretty early setpiece in HOBBS & SHAW – the spinoff of his own movie series! The better stuff is more down to earth, like when he attacks Axe’s limo in a tunnel clouded with flour, or early on when he kicks a guy’s head through a tiled bathroom wall and breaks the toilet with another guy. That’s before he has powers, other than being Vin Diesel. Most of this is pretty choppy, which I suspect comes from the editing, since the stunt coordinator and second unit director was J.J. Perry (HAYWIRE, UNDISPUTED II).
I liked the ROBOCOP-like scene where Ray realizes his wife is still alive and shows up on her doorstep. You immediately know he’s misunderstanding something because her reaction has more of an “Oh wow, I haven’t seen you in a while!” bumping-into-a-friend-at-the-grocery-store type feel than a passionate reunion one. Riley is very good in the scene, being nice but also confused and worried because, as we learn, they split up five years ago for reasons that he understood at the time.
What I think is great about the scene is his pleading of “I came home. I always came home,” referencing what he said in the opening and repeated in several other scenes. Gina explains that they got a divorce because she didn’t just want him to keep coming home – “I wanted you to stay home.” I like that the emotional catchphrase he thinks represents his love for his wife turns out to be an example of him not listening to her.
There are a few other fragments of Diesel humanity that I appreciated. First of all, he does his trademark of having an emotional yelling scene. He’s a machine, but he gets upset! More subtly, I liked the reoccurring gag about Wigans wanting to be thanked for his contribution. It starts as a typical joke about him muttering to himself about Ray not thanking him for saving his life, but it does not build (as you’d expect) to Ray finally thanking him at the end. Instead, Ray keeps thanking him in multiple scenes and he lights up a little each time.
One thing that’s kind of goofy: there is no indication in the movie of why it would be called BLOODSHOT. I was hoping at the end he would say, “My name isn’t Garrison anymore. Call me Bloodshot. Raymond Bloodshot” or whatever, but no. It does have a little epilogue (ENDING SPOILERS) indicating that he’s got a new team now with K.T. and Wilfred Wigans driving around with a high tech lab inside a camper trailer, but even that’s kind of funny because… what are they expecting to do? Is it, like, “If someone tries to implant false memories to trick me into being an assassin again, this time we’ll be ready”?
The script is credited to Jeff Wadlow (director of NEVER BACK DOWN and KICK-ASS 2) and Eric Heisserer (ARRIVAL, BIRD BOX). That seems like kind of a good combo of crass and smartypants, but it really doesn’t have enough of either side of the equation.
According to my research, the comic book character (introduced in 1992) is depicted with chalk white skin, glowing red eyes and a large red circle on his chest. Originally he turned into that when his powers kicked in, then they made it his permanent look. Here the white skin happens briefly, kind of, one time. I don’t really care either way but it amuses me to watch the extras on the blu-ray, where a producer raves about the brilliance of the director choosing to “make the aesthetics grounded,” as if we didn’t live through all the years when Hollywood thought only nerds liked super heroes so you had to take away the bright colors and give them leather jackets for audiences to accept them.
The character of Bloodshot was previously portrayed by Jason David Frank (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, FALL GUY: THE JOHN STEWART STORY) in a 2018 web series called Ninjak vs.the Valiant Universe. The Vin Diesel incarnation may or may not also crossover with Ninjaks and what nots, as this was intended to launch a “Valiant Cinematic Universe.” I don’t know if the pandemic killed that, or will be its savior, since they can blame it for this film’s box office. Obviously I would watch any followups, but I can’t say I’m excited for them. Maybe I can never love again after the Dark Universe was stolen right out from under our noses.