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Friday, March 27, 2020, 10:49
Misadventures of the action hero
By Elizabeth Kerr
Friday, March 27, 2020, 10:49 By Elizabeth Kerr

Bloodshot, directed by David S. F. Wilson, written by Jeff Wadlow, Eric Heisserer. Starring Vin Diesel and Guy Pearce. US, 109 minutes, IIB. Opens March 26. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Another year, another attempt at a new, self-aggrandizing action hero franchise by Vin Diesel. At a time when theatrical options are thin — the lucrative action/adventure season has been delayed or routed to Netflix/Disney+/iTunes/Amazon etc. — the thinking must have been that director David S. F. Wilson’s Bloodshot, based on the Valiant comic, would have clear sailing with the likes of James Bond and Black Widow backing out of COVID-19 era releases.

The logic is sound if you can find a cinema (Hong Kong appears to be an outlier), and there are more than a handful of striking red-tinged metallic set pieces that indeed look like they’ve been ripped straight from a comic book panel to please fanboys. But like so much of Diesel’s oeuvre, one peppered with car racing, stoically heroic lunkheads (secret agent XXX, Dominic Toretto, Riddick), he’s a righteous, infallible, taciturn tower of power, all rippling muscles — shot in sun-dappled slow-mo — that women adore. Good or bad, Diesel brings his typical testosterone fueled gusto to Bloodshot, regardless of the fact it recalls better material at every turn, RoboCop, Ex Machina, Universal Soldier, and an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation as a start.

In his first feature, Wilson, a special effects pro, demonstrates his comfort with CGI and action but shows little interest in character. For all its ridiculousness, Bloodshot has a solid, high concept sci-fi story to play with, one about the impact of identity on technology and vice versa, but Wilson doesn’t support it with any characters to root for, or love to hate. Diesel’s Ray Garrison is a reanimated soldier whose cadaver mad tech genius Emil Harting (Guy Pearce, too good for this movie) loads up with high tech nanites. They make him into super-soldier Bloodshot, and before you can say the word derivative, Garrison is on the hunt for the arch criminal who killed his wife and shot him in the head, Martin Axe (Toby Kebbell). But naturally there’s a conspiracy afoot.


Bloodshot’s biggest problem is that its star’s personality eclipses its main character. Diesel is on a mission to get audiences to like him better than Dwayne Johnson (the duo’s off-screen rivalry is legendary), but at this point he’s starting to lose ground to fellow ultramasculines John Cena and Dave Bautista, unable as he is to balance movie star charisma with the more humble demands of storytelling (if you can call these guys humble). Diesel’s considerable fan base won’t care, but like Johnson, ironically, he can be his own worst enemy. He’s indestructible and overwhelming, but he’s always Diesel, rarely Garrison.

The second biggest problem is the cardboard cutouts serving as supporting players, the “why” of their actions being consistently murky. That is other than it’s in the script, bafflingly co-written by Jeff Wadlow (Fantasy Island) and Eric Heisserer, who wrote the rightfully acclaimed Arrival (okay, and the junker Birdbox). 

Fellow mercenary KT (Eiza Gonzalez) has had enough of Harting’s overlording. Sure, okay. Jimmy (Outlander’s Sam Heughan) hates Garrison. Because…? This paint-by-numbers origin story never makes it clear. Wilson and producer Diesel have made room for a sequel but once Fast and Furious 9 finally appears in 2021, Bloodshot will become a career footnote. Fast.

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