Released: 13 March 2020
Director: David S. F. Wilson
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Budget: $45 million
Stars: Vin Diesel, Eiza González, Sam Heughan, Alex Hernandez, Lamorne Morris, and Guy Pearce
U.S. Marine Ray Garrison (Diesel) is shot and killed whilst saving hostages in Monbasa and right after watching his wife murdered before his eyes. Resurrected by nanite technology developed by Rising Spirit Tech’s (R.S.T.) Dr. Emil Harting (Pearce) and finds himself an amnesiac superhuman soldier, instantly recovering from injury, and with a burning desire for revenge.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last ten years, you may have noticed that superhero films and movies based on comic books have become pretty big business; Marvel Studios were pretty much dominating the marketed with a steady stream of releases each year while properties based on DC Comics continue to be produced and be tentpole releases. Perhaps coming in slightly late to the game, in 2015 Columbia Pictures secured the rights to produce films based on the characters featured in Valiant Comics.
Founded in 1989 by former editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics Jim Shooter, Steven Massarsky, and a group of investors after a failed attempt to purchase Marvel Comics, Valiant produces such titles as Magnus, Robot Fighter, Harbinger, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, Shadow Man, and Bloodshot. I, however, primarily know them for the Super Mario Bros. comic books they published in 1990 and for the videogames based on their characters but, nevertheless, Columbia strove to get a piece of the superhero market and forged ahead with Bloodshot, the first in a planned series of interconnected movies in an attempt to launch their own superhero cinematic universe.
In a year where going to the cinema has quickly become either a thing of the past or an extremely questionable practise, 2020 didn’t exactly have the strongest year of cinema releases; it was shaping up to be pretty good but pretty much all of the year’s most-anticipated releases either got pushed back and back, delayed, or went straight to on demand services. Because of this, Bloodshot became one of the last films to be released during the lockdown, though this didn’t really amount to much in terms of profit as the film made just over $37 million worldwide and was largely met with little more than average reviews.
Bloodshot is a pretty simple, mindless action film; if you’ve seen any action film from the eighties or nineties, you’ve seen pretty much everything Bloodshot has to offer; the core concept of an unstoppable, superhuman solider isn’t exactly new and Garrison’s ability to immediately regenerate from any injury or the inclusion of nano-technology has all been seen before. That, and the relative obscurity of the title character, may understandably give you pause for thought before tackling Bloodshot but, for me, just because it revisits and recycles a lot of familiar ideas doesn’t make the film redundant.
For one thing, Vin Diesel remains a surprisingly charismatic and likeable protagonist; his soft, gravelly voice conveys a lot of nuance and emotion (ranging from confusion to anger to heartbreak and a witty charm) and there’s just something about him, beyond him being immediately believable as a super soldier, that I find very likeable. He’s not flexing any muscles we haven’t seen from him before but he’s also not exactly phoning it in, either, delivering a serviceably entertaining performance as an amnesiac soldier suddenly gifted with superhuman powers who wants only one thing: revenge. (Well…three things, I guess: his wife/old life back, revenge, and the truth).
Opposing him is the peerless Guy Pearce; sure, Harting is just another “guy in a suit” puppet master/master manipulator kind of antagonist but I’ve always said that for these big, mindless action films with a bit of a brute as the main protagonist, you need an exceptional or accomplished actor in the role of the antagonist to give them film credibility and depth. Much of Harting’s dialogue, especially in the film’s early stages, is exposition but Pearce delivers it so convincingly and with such conviction that I never found it to be contrite or boring. When the “big reveal” (I believe the trailers gave the film’s twist away but Pearce is such a natural bad guy that you can easily see his turn coming a mile away) happens, Pearce instantly flips from a caring, compassionate mentor-like figure to a cold, ruthless sadist who is willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to protect his investment, take care of any loose ends, and create an army of unstoppable super soldiers under his direct command.
Of course, Harting isn’t nearly enough of a physical threat for Garrison to go up against; luckily, R.S.T. has used Harting’s technology to augment a couple of other soldiers for the good doctor to toss in Garrison’s path. Jimmy Dalton (Heughan) is Garrison’s primary rival; he takes an immediate dislike to Garrison and delights in utilising his cybernetic legs and, later, a pretty impressive prosthetic rig to vent his feelings out on Garrison’s largely indestructible form. Dalton is partnered with Marcus Tibbs (Hernandez) who uses a series of cameras and ocular implants to help track and pinpoint Garrison once he goes rogue and, together, they are just about able to equal something of a challenge for Garrison (though it does make you wonder why Harting didn’t inject his nanites into Dalton and Tibbs as well to give them more of an edge).
Of course, Bloodshot isn’t all action and testosterone; the crux of Garrison’s quest for revenge hinges on him wanting to avenge the brutal murder of his wife, Gina (Talulah Riley). Simply reliving this traumatic memory is enough to send Garrison out in a relentless quest to track down the man responsible again and again and is a pure enough motivation to allow Harting to reprogram Garrison to assassinate a series of targets, Garrison’s memory of Gina is skewed and unreliable, to say the least, as it turns out she’s not even dead and they’ve been separated for five years. As a result, there’s not much for Gina or Riley to do except be the object of Garrison’s affection and primary motivation, leaving her as little more than an attractive object rather than a well-rounded person.
Luckily, KT (González) is on hand to fill some of that role. Unable to breath naturally, she has been affixed with a cybernetic respirator that makes her immune to toxins; she’s also an extremely bad-ass fighter, making short work of much larger, masculine opponents and sympathising with Garrison’s plight. Mainly due to Garrison being fixated on avenging a wife he believes to be dead and him struggling to come to terms with the truth, any romantic or sexual tension between KT and Garrison is, thankfully, downplayed and they are portrayed as much more than colleagues, equals, and partners rather than succumbing to clichés. Still, the film seems to be leaving the door open for this, and an expansion on KT’s backstory and personality, in a future film as there isn’t much time spent on fleshing her out as being more than an exception fighter who’s tired of being manipulated.
Bloodshot also balances it’s slower, more contemplative moments and its high-octane action with a strange, quirky sense of humour. There’s a really weird moment in the beginning where Martin Axe (Toby Kebbell) suddenly brings into a whole dance routine (though this is later explained away as a flourish imbedded into Garrison’s memory by Harting’s coder) and Garrison is later saved from Harting’s continued manipulation by Wilfred Wigans (Morris), an eccentric rival coder who provides the bulk of the film’s comic relief through his fast-paced witticisms and peculiarities.
Still, let’s be honest with ourselves here: if you’re watching Bloodshot, you’re watching it to see Vin Diesel smash random dudes in the face and tank shots to his person. Bloodshot’s unique premise is that Garrison is loaded up with nanites that automatically repair damage and injuries to his body; we’ve seen similar effects before with the likes of Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) but Bloodshot takes it up a notch by being a little more graphic in its depiction (or, at least, as graphic as it can be with its 12 rating). As a result, you’ll get to see Garrison take a shotgun blast to his face and see his skin, bones, sinew, and blood all reform pretty much instantaneously, bullet holes close up, and him hammering opponents with his increased strength.
Still, as impressive as Diesel’s fight and action scenes are, they do wear thin pretty quickly thanks to the aforementioned rating. I feel Bloodshot would have benefitted greatly from being a 15 so we could see some really gory and gruesome effects and more brutal action sequences but it does pretty well with what it has. There’s plenty of scenes of Vin beating people to death, a pretty good chase sequence where he out-runs his pursuers with relative ease, and a unique final battle pitting him against Dalton and Tibbs on a collapsing external elevator.
Bloodshot may be big, loud, and somewhat derivative but it’s far from a complete clusterfuck or an unenjoyable experience. The film’s facing is good, its narrative is playing mostly straight and the action is tight and easy to follow. Vin Diesel and Guy Pearce excel in their roles (primarily because they’re playing to their strengths but what’s so wrong with that?) and the film’s premise is pretty good; Garrison isn’t completely unstoppable or invulnerable, meaning the film is just as much about him overcoming his limitations as it is him breaking free of Harting’s programming and manipulation, and he’s still in a position where he is in danger even with his nanites. Could more have been done with this? Yes, possibly, but I feel the film does a decent enough job of establishing this work and these characters and I would be interested to see where Garrison goes from here and a deeper exploration of this universe. Whether we’ll actually get that or not, however, remains to be seen.
Did you go and see Bloodshot earlier this year? If so, what did you think of it? Have you ever read the Bloodshot comic books? If so, do you feel the film did the character justice or was it lacking as an adaptation? Would you like to see more of this character and this world or do you feel this one deserves its mediocre reception and is best left forgotten? What is your favourite Vin Diesel movie/role? Whatever you think about Bloodshot, drop a comment below.