There is a wonderful five-minute section of Bloodshot, the newest comic book adaptation to hit the big screen, where it seems like the rules of the game have changed. It is such an honest, almost self-aware subversion of events that one can’t help but be excited with what is to come. Alas, those wonderful, dare I say brilliant, five minutes are wasted as this seemingly mid-’00s comic book origin story (yawn) chugs along as expected to a loud, CGI-heavy knockabout with “hidden” villains you knew were villains the whole time.
To talk about what is good in Bloodshot is to spoil the film and why would I do a thing like that? The trailer can do all that for you! And, frankly, so can the plot description. Per Box Office Mojo, dig this extravagant plot synopsis: “Ray Garrison, a slain soldier, is re-animated with superpowers.” Not exactly an Earth-shattering narrative. If you watched 2005’s Fantastic Four or something similar from that mind-numbing era of superhero movies, you know exactly what you are going to get going in: a major event turns the protagonist into a superpowered person, said hero doubts their new abilities, test them out in sometimes humorous ways, then master them all in record time to save the day from an equally superpowered villain.
It is the type of “old-fashioned” storytelling the MCU, and even the DCEU, has obliterated with genre-changing narrative arcs and subversive plot mechanics. And even when superhero films weren’t treading new ground in plot, like say Deadpool, the film was pushing boundaries with its humor, gore, and fourth-wall-breaking unreliable narrator. Bloodshot has the capacity, and at some points the will, to subvert expectations but, in the end, remains a relic of an earlier age where PG-13 origin stories ruled the day and no one was happy.
The first 1/3 of the film will bore you in potentially two different ways. As stated above, the plot is mind-numbingly simple. Special Ops soldier Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) is captured, along with his wife Nina (Talulah Riley), by a Talking Heads-dancing maniac named Martin Axe (Toby Kebbell) for reasons unknown (though likely related to a purposefully vague mission Garrison performs in rescuing hostages in Kenya that opens the film). When Axe doesn’t get the answers he wants to his questions, he executes Nina in a brutal fashion and then kills Garrison.
Cut to Garrison waking up in a super-advanced research and development corporation building. He is met by Dr. Emil Harting (the always excellent Guy Pearce), who advises Garrison that he has been brought back to life thanks to his company’s ability to use nanites as a replacement for blood. Because of these nanites, Garrison can sustain heavy injuries and heal from them quickly. The new blood also gives him super strength. Garrison is to join a team of similarly healed men and women in what would be a terrorist fighting task force.
However, Garrison wants revenge and now that he is virtually unstoppable he sets out on his own to take down Martin Axe and any of his heavily armed cronies that stand in his way. Thus Harting and his team of improved soldiers must chase Garrison down before he reveals the company’s secrets to the world and innocents die. But can the man Harting has created be stopped now that he is virtually invincible? And when Garrison tracks down Axe, will he discover new secrets about himself and the company he presumably now works for?
I’m willing to bet you can probably see where this film is going just by the plot synopsis alone. And you probably wouldn’t be wrong. It is not my job to spoil it for you so I won’t but things aren’t exactly as they seem to be in Bloodshot and it is the film’s ability to confront that plot machination that gives it a moment of brilliance that could have changed the outcome of this film and stories of its ilk forever. But then, as if the plot twist was a happy accident that the script just stumbled on, the movie continues down an expected, mundane path towards oblivion.
On the technical side, the film has a few “cool” scenes of actions, directed with awareness by first-time director Dave Wilson, who earned his keep as a visual effects artist with films like Avengers: Age of Ultron and cutting trailers for popular video games like Mass Effect 2 and Bioshock Infinite. These cool sequences are few and far between however as Bloodshot lacks a cohesive cinematic style. It is almost like Mr. Wilson came up with some dynamic action scenes, including some lifted directly from District 9 and any Black Widow fighting sequence from the MCU, and then was forced to build around them. Hardly any good story was built around “wouldn’t it be cool if” action sequences.
The visual effects are the main selling point as the film pulls its punches in the violence department. There is no doubt the film would benefit from some vicious bloodletting and ultra-violence. Instead, we get a very bloodless, toothless action film with some admittedly cool VFX. The nanites-as-blood is rendered exceptionally both on a micro-level (seeing the nanites work on a molecular level) and on a macro-level (seeing Garrison’s ruptured body heal itself in fast motion). For a very low budget film (costing only $45 million to make), Bloodshot has the appearance of something far grander. Likely because of its technical director, Bloodshot achieves a large visual effects scope with 1/3 of the normal budget and that must be commended.
But that is about as far as I can go with praise. Bloodshot hits all the expected plot points, barring a (wasted) five minute moment of brilliance, and chugs along to a narrative conclusion that even makes me, the defender of comic book films, think Scorsese might be right about the genre as a whole (just not about Marvel). This is still cinema but cinema without challenge or innovation. Bloodshot is, indeed, a film…just not a good one.
Bloodshot will be released in the US on March 13th.