Vin Diesel nicely keys into more stoic shootouts, but the movie around him can’t weld together its medley of genre inspirations.
As Ray Garrison aka Bloodshot (Vin Diesel) tumbles down an elevator in midair combat with Jimmy Dalton (Sam Heughan) and Tibbs (Alexander Hernandez), one may experience deja-vu. This, in some ways, is unsurprising—Bloodshot rarely seems interested in breaking new ground. However, the scene brings a deeper kind of recognition derived not just from familiar story beats, but also the visuals. The plasticine nature of these CGI constructs turns out to be a covert bit of nostalgia, smuggling Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man-level effects into a nastier superhero film 18 years later.
The extent to which this will please viewers will, of course, vary. For this critic, there’s something charming about it. This is the kind of movie comic book fans would have been nearly thrilled to see in the early 2000s: a not-quite-faithful adaptation animated by competent direction and actors willing to embrace the content without tipping into self-seriousness.
That said, it feels likely to get a different reception in 2020. The superhero film has grown so much in scope and depth so much in the past two decades. As a result, Bloodshot feels a bit unstuck in time. It’s a throwback to an era that’s passed and, depending on how inclined audiences are to take a sidelong glance at it, the film also operates as a sort of commentary. It seems to be reflecting the evolution of the action movies from their ‘80s ascendance to their superpowered present.
At first, Garrison is a very competent but also very human soldier. He bleeds, his body is a mess of scars, he clearly has a problem separating himself from the work. Then he becomes increasingly invulnerable, increasingly beyond humanity. If not for Diesel’s naturally oversized frame, one could draw a fairly convincing line from a Die Hard-style hero all the way to the MCU’s demigods alongside Garrison’s journey from fatigued warrior to nanite-fueled revenge machine.
It would be easy to write off this perspective as a bit of overindulgent criticism if not for how many visual homages director Dave Wilson litters throughout his debut. It’s entirely possible he might just be doing it because he thinks they look cool. But when paired with a plot dedicated to memory, how manipulating it can make us betray ourselves, and the aforementioned sense that Bloodshot seems to exist in a slightly different time, the visual recalls further the objective correlative. If Wilson is not pondering times past on purpose, well… he sure has accidentally stumbled into a rich vein.
Please, though, don’t misinterpret. This is not a secret genius kind of movie. Wilson may have an eye for remixing visual cues, but his action sequences often stumble. The camera frequently frames everything too tightly and adds quick cuts to further confuse and undermine the combat. Perhaps that’s another reason that aforementioned CGI-heavy elevator throwdown appeals: sure, it might have that distinctively false sheen to it, but it’s also the clearest fight in the film.
The script from Jeff Wadlow (Fantasy Island) and Eric Heisserer (Bird Box) has some clever touches in the early going. However, the film has an impatience that undermines most of its twists and turns. The ones they do build have already been spoiled by the trailers. As for the ones that weren’t spoiled, the movie repeatedly rushes to and immediately past.
It would feel like great fare for those superhero hungry—or really even just curious—moviegoers in 2000. In 2020, though, Bloodshot is more of a diverting matinee to break up cinema’s slow season.
It is the script’s good fortune, then, to have Guy Pearce, Lamorne Morris, and Diesel. As the doctor behind Garrison’s transformation—Pearce’s role could have gone a number of ways. Anyone who’s seen Iron Man 3 knows the man can chew scenery, but rather than go large, he makes Harting seem utterly human. He’s a man with a plan and, save for one moment, is too self-assured to have to scream it to the cheap seats.
On the other hand, moviegoers have grown accustomed to Diesel’s lumbering screen presence and concrete voice over the years. It can be easy to dismiss him as a result. However, the actor has found his range. It’s clear he can play stoic and tough, but he also portrays Garrison’s sense of bafflement well. The way he lets it crack his typically low affect works without being showy.
In fact, showy is the problem. Diesel is his least persuasive when he has to be his angriest. Morris, conversely, deserves a shout out for his work as child genius-turned-adult recluse Wilfred Wigans. Armed with a cockney accent, he makes a character who is 100 percent a trope a delightful bit of comedic relief. But in the end, Bloodshot ends up as average. For every success, there seems to be a demerit to balance it out. It would feel like great fare for those superhero hungry—or really even just curious—moviegoers in 2000. In 2020, though, Bloodshot is more of a diverting matinee to break up cinema’s slow season.
Bloodshot is now soldiering through theaters nationwide.