You can be forgiven for thinking it as a result of reading previous entries here, but I honestly don’t hate popcorn movies, quite the opposite. I adore Con Air, the first three Die Hards, Predator, Commando, Big Trouble In Little China, the list could actually go on ad nauseam. While these titles vary in their orders of magnitude on the ridiculousness scale, they all have one common, rather redundant-to-mention factor: they work. The performances do the job without necessarily being Oscar-worthy, the scripting is tight, smart and kinetic, they all have a great sense of humour and, most importantly, all possess a coherent, albeit insane, narrative structure. There is only so much intellectual depth and weighty dramatic issues we can digest before our more primal instincts kick in and demand some high-octane nonsense to take the edge off of our daily banalities. But just because something is stupid doesn’t mean it isn’t beholden to playing by the rules; it still has to be good, to the extent that you give an infinitesimal shit for an hour and a half (that’s about right, isn’t it?). Bloodshot didn’t listen to that simple instruction. It is replete with action, high concepts, twists and turns, and dialogue written for comic effect, but it would make no difference in either your short or long-term existence were you to spend the running time standing in your garden and staring at your fence.
Vin Diesel does yet another stellar job in his ongoing impersonations of that very same fence, this time under the name Ray Garrison. A U.S. Marine, Garrison has just completed a rescue mission in Kenya, and proceeds to take a much-needed furlough to the Italian seaside with his wife Gina (Talulah Riley). Whilst in their hotel room one night, the couple are violently attacked and abducted by a crew of balaclava-sporting thugs who turn out to be mercenaries. Their leader, an unhinged sadist by the name of Martin Axe (Toby Kebbell), demands to know who provided Garrison with the intelligence on the Kenyan hostage rescue. Ray genuinely has no clue, prompting Axe to unceremoniously execute him and Gina (don’t worry, this is all preliminary).
Inexplicably regaining consciousness in an intimidating laboratory, he is introduced to Dr Emil Harting (Guy Pearce, in the film’s sole good performance), the robotic-armed CEO of Rising Spirit, a tech company that specialises in creating insanely enhanced (and deadly) prosthetics for military personnel who have been catastrophically wounded. Harting explains to Ray that the military donated his body to their company after he was murdered, and his team patched up and reanimated his corpse via the use of ‘nanites’. These microscopic robots have replaced his blood cells by way of a full transfusion, and not only do they greatly increase his strength, senses and agility, they also work at breakneck speed to regenerate his body after any injury. His memory wiped clean, Garrison is presented with Harting’s offer of being Rising Spirit’s poster boy supersoldier for the military-industrial complex’s technological revolution.
Meeting former U.S. Navy diver KT (Eiza Gonzalez) and ex-soldiers Jimmy Dalton (Sam Heughan) and Marcus Tibbs (Alex Hernandez), Ray is encouraged to stay on a positive psychological curve in regards to his new physicality, testing out his groundbreaking abilities and feeling free of the fear of ever being killed in action again. Alas, the move to erase all of his memories didn’t work (who’d have figured?), and he begins to have crystal clear recollection of his and Gina’s kidnapping and brutal murder at the hands of Axe and his psychotic soldiers of fortune. Tooling himself up to the nines with protective gear and an apocalyptic arsenal, Ray sets out to avenge the murder of himself and his wife and find out who sold him out on his involvement in the Kenya operation. Ray Garrison is no more; he is now Bloodshot, the indestructible nanorobotic badass. Harting will panic and scramble to get Bloodshot back to base. Carnage will ensue. Vin Diesel will sweat, growl and frown.
The storyline just about makes a lick of sense. There are narrative developments afoot that are needlessly convoluted and laborious, and thus spoil the potential for being the Grade A brain candy that the picture is so desperately striving for. Aside from his turn as Riddick in Pitch Black, I’ve never found Vin Diesel to be in possession of anything approaching an effective charisma. He might wryly smile, stare menacingly, and throw shade in a pithy and gruff way, but it’s not really that fun, exciting or endearing. He’s a lump of wood. As I mentioned previously, Guy Pearce provides the film with its one decent performance, as Pearce is trustworthy in that regard, his portrayal of Dr Harting conveying a bookish stress junkie of a man who carries a perpetual air of mystery. I would genuinely be interested in watching Pearce revisit the character in a tighter, smarter, though not necessarily more highbrow sci-fi effort. To be somewhat fair, I can admit to being sporadically entertained by a few of the fight sequences littered throughout the movie, there are moments of pretty good choreography and some deft bloodshed to sate the palate of gorehounds. But those do not a success make.
Also, the central comic relief dude is categorically horrendous. Wilfred Wigans (Lamorne Morris) is the goofy and perpetually chipper computer programmer responsible for all of the groundwork coding that has made Rising Spirit’s endeavours possible, and the American Morris plays him with a positively crap English accent in the same league as Van Dyke & Don Cheadle. Unpredictably slipping between Estuary and Northern tones, Wigans is supposedly the lovably eccentric foil to all of the betrayal and brutality, but is ultimately little more than an annoying bellend. The attempt at the accent is grating, the jokes are unimaginative and cringy, and his ceaselessly manic behaviour had me praying for Diesel to just punch a hole through his face and kill him. It serves up yet another slice of the weird contentions that Hollywood appears to hold about us Brits, as we’re either aristocratic architects of diabolical mayhem, Hugh Grant or, as seen here, spergy beanie-wearing tossers who sit around in nerd caves eating Pot Noodles, being unable to shut the fuck up for 10 seconds.
So, my residual wish for a bit of taut escapism was trampled upon once more. Save for a couple of action sequences, it has none of the hallmarks of a great bubblegum film. The performances are hollow, the humour is nonexistent, the narrative is repetitive and meandering, and it checks off every tired superhero cliche going. If this was an attempt to get a slew of Valiant Comics adaptations rolling, it isn’t a good start. Bloodshot would be most suited as a bargain-bin double feature with the equally irksome Gemini Man, as it’s the same calibre of frustratingly amateurish writing and harebrained resolutions. If you want a genuinely great movie about cybernetic enhancement and revenge that’s consistently thrilling and amusing, watch Upgrade instead.