As actors scramble to find their place in superhero cinema, Vin Diesel takes a chance on “Bloodshot,” a big-budget adaptation of the cult comic book character, trying to bring his sludgy charisma to a sci-fi tale about a super soldier on the loose. As with most Diesel endeavors, he’s the least interesting element in the production, but this take on the titular bruiser (who’s been around since the early 1990s) has a few surprises to share before it becomes another tepid actioner for the star.
A sense of the unexpected is what “Bloodshot” needs more of, and additional mayhem would be nice too, as so much of the feature is devoted to expositional needs, keeping what promises to be a roller coaster ride of death and revenge into a largely talky effort that’s constantly attentive to explaining its complicated premise. The end result doesn’t do much for Diesel’s filmography, but at least the man still has Groot.
A military officer with extreme pride in his service, Ray (Vin Diesel) barely survives a recent mission overseas to help shut down a hostage situation. Taking a bullet for his country, the scar joins many others, with Ray hoping to heal on a special getaway with his wife, Gina (Talulah Riley), rekindling their romance after time apart. Breaking up the fun is terrorist Martin (Toby Kebbell), who demands information on the operation from Ray, killing Gina as a way to prove his point.
Also pulling a bullet in the soldier, Ray is murdered, only to wake up inside Rising Spirit Technologies, greeted by Dr. Emil (Guy Pearce), who oversees a billion-dollar operation that resurrects the dead, using special technology to transforms corporeal donations into specialized war machines. Ray learns he’s been pumped full of nanites, gifting him super-strength and the ability to instantly heal, and while his memory has been wiped to make him a human computer, he manages to recall all that was lost, setting out to destroy Martin on his own turf.
There’s more to “Bloodshot,” a lot more, and the effort to provide some level of explanation for everything happening to Ray eats up most of the run time. The screenplay (by Eric Heisserer and Jeff Wadlow) opens with a bang, exploring Ray’s military skills as they’re put to the test during a hostage situation, using his brawn to take out multiple bad guys, receiving a bullet for his troubles, sending him back to Gina with a fresh wound.
Ray is presented as tough and patriotic, but also loving, embracing time with his wife, with the pair traveling to Italy for a romantic getaway, only to never leave the bedroom. Such bliss is disrupted by the arrival of Martin, who kidnaps the pair, threating Gina’s life as the flamboyant terrorist (who introduces himself with a dance number to the Talking Heads tune, “Psycho Killer”) demands information Ray doesn’t have. The couple ends up dead, with Ray soon waking up inside Rising Spirit Technologies, embarking on a new chapter in his ruined life. And all this happens before the main titles.
Life inside RST offers “Bloodshot” a chance to do what it primarily does: discuss fantasy tech and superficial feelings. The business is run by Dr. Emil, who’s trying to be gentle about Ray’s new form, preparing him for a grand display of power as a way to prove that his special science works. He’s created other super soldiers, with one enjoying enhanced sight while another has robotic legs, but it’s KT (Eliza Gonzalez) who’s drawn to Ray’s pain.
Her issue is a respiratory one, fitted for a special breathing device that allows her to participate in chemical warfare, and she’s responsive to Ray’s confusion, becoming something of a friend while he figures out his powers. Dr. Emil hungers for a “new frontier” of combat evolution, but Ray wants revenge, leading to the picture’s showcase of his bloodstream nanites as the driven brute goes after Martin in Budapest, slamming around armed goons and taking bullets with ease. Director Dave Wilson, a former visual effects artist, gets to show off his stuff here, ordering up loads of slo-mo cinematography and shots of Ray’s flesh being shredded, only to regenerate in an instant.
The mid-movie clash is visually arresting, and represents the highlight of “Bloodshot,” which also has fun with action film cliches, offering pure awfulness featuring Martin for a specific reason, showing some cleverness. The rest of the feature isn’t as inventive, growing sleepy with Diesel’s inability to project believable emotion, while true villainy isn’t exactly a difficult puzzle to solve, robbing the material of threat. Ray’s evolution into Bloodshot takes a lot of turns, and every move the screenplay makes demands a conversation about it, which doesn’t inspire many thrills.
Wilson save his big clashes for the final act, finally unleashing the super soldiers in the city, but CGI offerings are poorly animated, and the production needs something else besides more slo-mo bashing and bleeding to come alive. I’m sure fans of the character will be far more accepting of the picture’s shortcomings, but with competition in comic book cinema so fierce these days, it takes a lot more than repetitive laboratory conversations to deliver the goods.
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