Bloodshot hearkens back to a pre-MCU era of superhero movies. It’s adapted from a Valiant Comics character you’ve probably never heard of. Its budget is far below the mammoth expectations established by modern Marvel, while it has an aggressively self-reflexive edge to its writing that was common pre-2008 (on that note, it doesn’t come as a surprise to see Matthew Vaughan credited as producer).
Though that makes the film a bit of a curio in the modern moviemaking environment, these aren’t inherently bad qualities. And Bloodshot is not an inherently bad film. Vin Diesel offers a reliably solid foundation for dependable action; there are some good jokes, it has a few neat surprises and Jacques Jouffrets’ cinematography use of black and red is consistently impressive. Y’know, it’s a fine dumb B-movie.
But there’s the persistent sense that it could have been more, that only part of the potential has been realised. Take the introduction, which zips through a generic backstory and a supersoldier plotline that will be intensely familiar if you’ve seen more than a handful of TV shows or movies over the past couple decades before revealing that it’s all a ruse. Yes – shock, horror! – the supersoldier manufacturer played by Guy Pearce is evil. Cleverly, the screenplay even acknowledges the familiarity of its intro, laying the blame at an unimaginative techie (Siddharth Dhananjay) who’s crafting Diesel’s character’s memories.
While this twist is generic – and revealed in the film’s trailer – it’s initially elevated by that metatextual acknowledgement of its own lack of originality. But that fades when director Dave Wilson allows the storyline to slide back into the generic. I love the way Bloodshot is dismissive of its own familiar aspects – as in an infiltration scene which mostly occurs off camera, because we’ve seen it all before – but then the remainder of the film is really just another revenge storyline; now Vin Diesel is extracting his revenge on the company that caged him.
This points to a failure of storytelling – Jeff Wadlow and Eric Heisserer’s script indicates little interest in Diesel’s character as a person, to the point that I had to look up his name (Ray Garrison) – that’s shared with other aspects of the film. Lamorne Morris’s character, Wigans, a comic relief hacker that becomes incredibly important to the third act, has no discernible motivation. He does things because they’re required by the plot. That’s not unusual in action films, but the action never really compensates; individual moments are impressive, but the storyboarding and spatial continuity is consistently lacking. There’s a scene, for instance, where Garrison’s car is rammed off the road and in the next cut he’s outside the car, with no coherent explanation for how that might have occurred.
Thematically, Bloodshot falls short. Frustratingly short. Its descent back into revenge storytelling suggests it’s not really interested in unpicking the features of the genre; which, fine! Not every genre film has to critique itself, even if they do feint at self-reflexivity. Bloodshot does have something more to say than ‘Vin Diesel punch things hard’, though. If you squint and tilt your head just right, it’s asking you to consider what freedoms you’d sacrifice for luxuries. Ray Garrison is giving up privacy and free will for superpowers; would you do the same? It’s not an irrelevant question in the age of social media, and one I wish that the film had probed a little more deeply.
Instead, it’s only halfway there.