Bloodshot is a superhero unlike so many others. With ghostly white skin, crimson eyes, and a blood red circle on his chest, the enhanced super soldier is a striking, eerie presence in the eyes of his enemies. He looks as if the Pale Rider of the apocalypse traded their steed for a ton of guns.
But why does Bloodshot look like that? In the first feature film adaptation of Valiant Comics starring Vin Diesel, director Dave Wilson let his geek flag fly high when he discovered a sound scenario that explains how a person's skin really could turn the color of snow.
"That's where the nerd in me really manifested," Wilson told Inverse last October at New York Comic Con. "I can't just put a red dot on his chest. I have to have a reason."
And a reason Wilson found. In the new movie Bloodshot, Vin Diesel stars as a U.S. Marine named Ray Garrison whose blood is replaced with a billion microscopic nano-machines, called "nanites," which gives him superpowers. Throughout the film, Garrison looks normal — except he can punch through concrete and heal from even the most fatal wounds in seconds.
During the movie's final battle, however, Ray Garrison's skin turns pale, a ghostly white tint with a blue hue. While the visual looks cool, especially to fans of the comics, it doesn't have an explicit reason beyond the nanites being "overclocked" in his system. For Inverse, Wilson unpacked the science of how Bloodshot really came alive.
First, there are Ray Garrison's nanites that run in his blood. "Obviously, everything has to revolve around the nanites," Wilson says. "The nanites are 'overclocking' all of your body's functions."
He describes the nanites as like a computer, which can overheat when it multitasks. "If the nanites are clustering, if you're being shot at and nanites are rushing all over your body to fix your vital organs, think of it as a computer system that is multitasking. It is de-prioritizing functions of your body that are not vital to your survival, so your skin's pigment is not necessary to survive."
Second, there are strange things the human body already does even without cutting-edge super computers in the bloodstream. "When someone says 'You've seen a ghost,' that happens because in a heightened, stressful situation, your body suppresses non-vital functions," Wilson says. "Your body sends all your blood to your muscles, because you are in fight or flight mode. You're gonna punch someone in the face or you're going to run away. Your skin goes pale because keeping the blood flowing to the skin is not a vital, necessary bodily function at that moment."
Wilson admits that the comic book science of Bloodshot will disappoint the real-life scientists he consulted. "We went to UCLA's nanosystems lab, which will be horribly disappointed how unrealistic the nanotech in the movie is," he jokes. He adds that the real world is "a few years out from doing what we do" in Bloodshot.
"The concept of having a microscopic, robotic organism in our bodies that delivers medicine to a particular part of your body, that is not far away. We use that as a base an take a giant, scientific leap."
While Bloodshot does keep his look from his best-selling comic books in the movie, director Dave Wilson couldn't turn a blind eye to the science of it.
"It's important for me to physiologically break down why he may have this red glow in his chest, or the red eyes, and finding principles behind that," he says. "It was finding a believable, reasonable way to facilitate those abilities coming into fruition in the film. We take a leap every now and then, we have to. But it's alway taking a faithful leap forward."
Bloodshot is in theaters now.