Every few years, Vin Diesel likes to remind audiences that he does do movies that are not of the fast and furious or alien tree variety. He’ll throw in an “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” or a “The Last Witch Hunter” to remind us all he’s more than Groot or Dom Toretto. He can also be a generic action star with a gravelly voice and a contract that requires him to be in a tank top for at least 70% of the movie. And so arrives the obligatory “Bloodshot,” an adaptation of the Valiant Comics character of the same name, directed by video game auteur David S.F. Wilson in his big screen debut, with a script by Jeff Wadlow and Eric Heisserer.
“Bloodshot” begins in a very expected way for this kind of thing. After a violent hostage extraction in Kenya, special ops soldier Ray Garrison (Diesel) retires to the Amalfi Coast for some R&R with a comely blonde, Gina (Talulah Riley), apparently his wife. Before long they’re picked up by some “psycho killer” (Toby Kebbell) who menacingly dances to the Talking Heads in a meat locker while demanding to know some information about Ray’s mission. Before you can wonder just who the heck this guy is, Ray wakes up in a lab, where a doctor with a robot arm (Guy Pearce) tells him he’s been brought back to life as a technologically enhanced super soldier.
With a bloodstream full of microscopic machinated mites to rebuild his body in combat, Ray is RoboCop with the self-regenerating power of the T-1000. But his all-too-human memories of murder and mayhem mean he’s hell-bent on revenge. You know how they say trauma is stored in the body? Ray’s trauma still lives somewhere in his cells, even after he’s Frankensteined back to life by the charming technologist Dr. Harting (Pearce). But, are those memories even his, and what larger purpose are they serving?
This is a supremely silly Diesel vehicle, allowing the earnest action star to deliver lines like “You used me… to kill,” with the utmost seriousness. But the writers are also clever enough about the genre’s own tropes to poke some fun at them, mostly while snarky techies fiddle with the simulations. Visually, there are some neat moments with the “nanites” in Ray’s veins, though there are times when the movie feels like watching visual effects artists lay down pre-visualizations, like it’s half-rendered, which is kind of the point. Predictably, it descends into a meaningless blur of gravity-defying physics and robotic limbs by the end, where a lot of violence is happening but you’re never sure exactly why or even how.
“Bloodshot” wants to be a treatise of sorts on privatized surveillance, artificial intelligence and war profiteering. And in many ways, it pulls that off, especially with Pearce as the philosophically slimy Dr. Harting. But the filmmakers have the good sense to let that subversion coexist alongside Diesel’s sincerity, so it remains a bewildering piece good-bad sci-fi action trash. Do any of the characters have clearly articulated motives? No. Are the action sequences a confounding geographical jumble? Indeed. Does Lamorne Morris shout “He’s overclocking the nanites!” in a cockney accent? Of course he does. What more could you possibly expect from a movie called “Bloodshot”? Nothing.