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In this, the Golden Age of comic-book movie adaptations, Marvel and DC undoubtedly are kings. Name recognition for heroes like Wonder Woman, Batman, Spider-Man and the Avengers means that films centered around them have a distinct advantage in luring people to local theaters. But that doesn’t mean the two comic conglomerates have a monopoly on mesmerizing stories being told in the funny books. There are great characters coming out of companies such as Dark Horse, Image Comics, IDW Publishing and Valiant Comics, and one of them – Bloodshot – gets a crack at silver-screen stardom thanks to this intriguing but ultimately convoluted and overly-CGI’d origin story.
Launched in the 1990s by for Marvel Comics EIC Jim Shooter, Valiant Comics prided itself on having grounded characters who often embraced the role of antihero. Bloodshot was (and is) a one-time soldier enrolled in the Project Rising Spirit program, where his bloodstream is injected with countless nano-tech creatures that give him the power of regeneration and invincibility. The movie, like the book that it’s based on, dabbles in futuristic sci-fi gimmickry and bare-knuckle military firepower. And it kind of works, until first-time director Dave Wilson loses control of the narrative and prays that chincy-looking CGI will bail him out of trouble. It doesn’t, and that’s a shame.
The Bloodshot story is actually original and intriguing.
And for this, I’m going to give proper credit to the comic books. It’s one thing that former soldier Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) is granted the extreme powers of regeneration and immunity. That power’s hardly new in comics (hello, Wolverine and Deadpool). It’s what Bloodshot chooses to do with the character that’s cruel, but fascinating.
This much of the plot can be found in the Bloodshot trailer, and I’ll stop before things get spoilery. The scientists at R.S.T. that bring Garrison back to life have a goal in mind, as well as a devious plan. They want to eliminate a laundry list of high-powered adversaries, so they repeatedly send Garrison back inside of a brutal memory, where he must watch his ex-girlfriend, Gina (Talulah Riley), get killed. Only, the person pulling the trigger changes each time, meaning that when Ray wakes up, he’s immediately seeking vengeance on the NEXT person on a list he’s never even seen.
Cool concept. And it’s set up in such a way that Bloodshot references just enough of Groundhog’s Day while also dabbling in routine vendetta-thriller nonsense. This is why you hire Vin Diesel, but when you notice that the script is credited to Oscar nominee Eric Heisserer (Arrival, Bird Box), you understand why the surrounding science-fiction plays better than expected in this story. Of course, Jeff Wadlow (Fantasy Island, Kick-Ass 2) is credited as the other writer on Bloodshot, so that explains why it all falls to shit before the end credits roll.
Casting almost saves the movie. Almost.
Bloodshot basically accepts that Vin Diesel is Vin Diesel, and when you cast him as your lead character – because he happens to be biding time between Fast & Furious chapters – you are going to get some slight variation on the characters he “created” for Pitch Black or xXx. He’s angry. He’s tough as nails. He’s physically capable. And that’s pretty much it.
The best one can do is surround Diesel with personality, which Bloodshot basically does. The scene-stealer is Lamorne Morris (New Girl), who plays the sarcastic and overly confident Wigans, a super-tech who’s able to hack virtually anything and help Ray on his missions. But director Dave Wilson also creates a throwback vibe to 1980s sci-fi thrillers built around colorful and strange teams, with similarly enhanced soldiers first fighting with Bloodshot, and eventually fighting against them. Eiza Gonzalez, for example, was a deep-sea soldier injured in battle who now has a valve in the middle of her chest that allows her to breathe underwater like a fish. Sam Heughan (Outlander) boasts equally unusual physical enhancements that help keep Bloodshot interesting until it all careens off the tracks.
Cheap special effects eventually spend all of the film’s goodwill.
No matter how interesting Bloodshot starts off being, the film eventually caves to a barrage of ludicrous plot turns that muddy almost every character motivation, as well as a series of terrible-looking CGI fights. One, which involves two elevator cars on the outside of a tall building, essentially presents “Cartoon Vin Diesel” fighting “Cartoon Adversaries,” boasting on-screen graphics that video games from 15 years ago would scoff at. The CGI becomes so disappointingly mediocre in Bloodshot, I began to further appreciate the lunacy of Hobbs & Shaw, which tests the limits of credible physics but still looks borderline realistic in doing so.
Bloodshot is meant to be the start of a franchise, as is basically anything that Vin Diesel touches in Hollywood. And with the history of Valiant Comics at its disposal, it's one that could have fueled engaging stories for years to come. Unfortunately, after this debut, I’m afraid that the series won’t share the rise-from-the-dead powers of its titular character, and will slowly bleed out at the box office and the multiplex in due time.