In some ways, Bloodshot is the most subversive superhero movie since 2016's Deadpool. But unlike that movie, Bloodshot never quite figures out where its commitment to genre irony begins and ends. In a story about the destruction and reconstruction of a violent anti-hero, Bloodshot rebukes modern superhero movies for sticking to the same familiar tropes but seems blissfully unaware of the ways it succumbs to the very same pitfalls.
In theaters March 13, Bloodshot stars Vin Diesel as the ghostly super soldier from cult publisher Valiant, whose comics have sold big but never penetrated the mainstream like Marvel and DC. Directed by Dave Wilson, a visual effects veteran with a slew of video game credits, Bloodshot is a mishmosh of old-school sci-fi action movies (think Predator, Total Recall, RoboCop, and the like) and modern blockbusters like Captain America and Deadpool.
On the surface, Bloodshot is a revenge story. US Marine Ray Garrison (Diesel, rehashing his Fast and Furious character Dom Toretto) helplessly watches the brutal murder of his wife (Talulah Riley) before he is killed in cold blood. Then Ray wakes up with no memory, amazing superpowers — he's got a billion microscopic "nanites" in his bloodstream that can heal his wounds and hack computers — and a mentor in Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce). Surrounded by other enhanced soldiers, including the sympathetic KT (Eiza González), Ray rediscovers his identity and tracks down his wife's killer.
And Ray does it over, and over, and over again. It's like Groundhog Day, only for revenge. As Bloodshot cleverly reveals at its halfway point, there's more to Ray's "origin story" than you probably assumed.
Bloodshot barely succeeds in articulating our collective exhaustion of superhero movies by cannily acknowledging all the beats savvy audiences are all too familiar with — heroic soldier, dead wife, a blood-soaked path to revenge — and weaponizes them in an ingenious science fiction twist. The intentionally generic male power fantasy that is Ray's "origin story" is laid out on a movie nerd's Final Cut Pro timeline, and his memory contains visual cues that get swapped out like the real-time rendering in VFX movies.
Bloodshot boldly asserts that its story is so interchangeable, you can swap out pieces without leaving any significant damage. It is pure oxygen in light of the the last 20 years of superhero movies. But Bloodshot's most ingenious twist is also its biggest stumbling block.
For all of its condescension toward cliché superhero movies, Bloodshot frequently succumbs to some of its worst offenses. An over-abundance of weightless CGI makes it look more like an Xbox One trailer than a feature film (see also: Black Panther, Green Lantern). Pearce is wasted in a woefully undercooked role (see also: Ant-Man, Doctor Strange). The fight scenes are nigh incomprehensible, with haphazard editing and just plain ugly camera work (see also: Batman Begins, Captain America: The Winter Soldier). And the filmmakers' resistance to making Ray look like the ghostly figure he is in the comics for most of the runtime prohibits Bloodshot from being as strange as it needs and clearly wants to be. (See also: X-Men, Power Rangers.)
There is a fantastic superhero movie within the DNA of Bloodshot. It's just wrapped up in average execution that doesn't live up to its own ambitions. A more abrupt swerve and a more rhythmic repetition of Ray's memories would have made not just a more exciting and unusual movie, but improved it with better pacing and a tighter grip on the audience's attentions. I don't expect Bloodshot to play well at home, when various distractions will keep viewers from being invested the whole way. In the end, Bloodshot never quite hits its mark, but with a charismatic lunkhead like Diesel at the wheel, it's easy to enjoy the ride.
Bloodshot opens in theaters March 13.