A little over halfway through Bloodshot, everything clicks. Up until that point, the new Vin Diesel joint is a familiar sci-fi action movie about a soldier who is brought back to life and goes after the man who killed not just him, but his wife. Then the story changes and like the last piece of a puzzle, you step back, look at everything together and go, “Oh, this is way better than I thought.”
Directed by Dave Wilson in his first feature film gig (he previously worked in visual effects), Bloodshot is the first live-action film adaptation of a Valiant Comics character. Diesel stars as Ray Garrison, the aforementioned soldier who finds himself brought back to life thanks to Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce). Harting takes injured soldiers and makes them extraordinary thanks to advancements in technology but Ray—codename Bloodshot—is his Mona Lisa. He’s infused Ray’s blood with microscopic, thinking machines called nanites that repair his body and connect him to the internet. He’s like Wolverine, with wifi. And though Ray doesn’t instantly remember how or why he was killed, when he does, he goes into a murderous rage, desperate to get revenge on Martin Axe (Toby Kebbell), the man who killed him and his wife Gina (Westworld’s Talulah Riley).
But, again, that’s just how it starts. If you know the Bloodshot comics you probably can guess what happens next as it’s right in line with the character’s basic origin story. If you don’t know the comics though, I won’t spoil it. Suffice to say, everything happens a little too easily for Ray and eventually, he figures out not all is what it seems. That’s where Bloodshot locks in. It’s the rare superhero movie where the audience doesn’t know all the answers. We think we do, just as Ray does, but time and time again, the film either plays against those expectations or subverts them entirely. As a result, Bloodshot keeps its audience on its toes and helps put us into the mindset of this confused super solider just trying to figure out what the hell is going on.
Okay fine. You do have some idea of what’s going on. Bloodshot is going to beat the bad guys. It’s just that who, exactly, the bad guys are and what, exactly, they want, is delightfully murky. And that mystery allows screenwriters Jeff Wadlow (Kick-Ass 2) and Eric Heisserer (Arrival) to have a lot of fun. All of a sudden, since we don’t know what’s real, what’s not, what’s true, or what’s false, things that may have been dismissed as cliché suddenly have a purpose. Events that seemed a little too predictable were meant to be that way. A seemingly serious story is shot in the heart with an edge of self-awareness, which alleviates some of the nitpicky issues like logic or lack of characterization. Bloodshot becomes a comic book movie that knows it’s a comic book movie but doesn’t act like it.
As Ray, Vin Diesel exhibits more range than we’ve come to expect from the actor. Ray has pain. He has confusion. And Diesel shows that in his performance when he needs to. After him though, the cast is mostly window dressing, with the exception of Eiza González (From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series) as another enhanced soldier named K.T. and Lamorne Morris (New Girl) as a tech genius named Wigans. Each adds just enough attitude for Ray to play off of to keep the story moving.
For a first time director, Wilson makes strong visual choices throughout. There’s a full action scene using flour (yes, really) and lit by red flares. Another scene almost completely unfolds in heat vision. Some excellent CGI shows off just how Ray’s nanites can improve and repair his body, and the film builds to an intense third act set piece that is so over the top, you can’t help but howl with laughter.
Once you realize what Bloodshot is doing, though, it never elevates itself beyond that. While Ray and the audience seek the truth, Bloodshot seems fine holding it back. There’s never a truly clear picture of all that happened with Ray and his past. Many questions go unanswered. And maybe that was done on purpose for potential sequels, but it ends up undercutting a little of the goodwill the film has deservedly earned with its twists and turns.
Nevertheless, while Bloodshot can be cheesy and a little frustrating, it’s much more entertaining and surprising. The film has a strong story, told relatively well, with fun reveals and action scenes throughout. Is it good enough to be Valiant’s Iron Man? We don’t know. But it is, without a doubt, a valiant effort that worked out for the best and we hope there’s more to come.
Bloodshot opens Friday.
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