Vin Diesel is, if nothing else, something of a home-run when it comes to being a self-publicist. Whether he’s hitting the stump for such misbegotten fare as The Last Witch Hunter, his own stuttering Riddick franchise, or CGI slop like Babylon AD, Diesel always goes to bat for his project, predicting success, sequels and franchises, and never seeming embarrassed when the film turns out to be a dud.
Bloodshot is supposedly the first in a franchise based on, checks notes, the Valiant comic cinematic universe? It’s had various personnel changes over a decade of development hell, but arrives on the big screen looking distinctly like a re-heated dinner. Diesel plays Marine Ray Garrison, murdered before the opening titles begin. He becomes some kind of genetically modified super-soldier via some kind of nanotechnology, and is known as Bloodshot, although he doesn’t seem to have much of a super-hero costume beyond an illuminated panel on his T-shirt.
Garrison is keen for revenge on whoever is responsible for his own death and that of his wife, so he cracks on with getting in the faces of various baddies, including a manic Toby Kebbell as Martin Axe, housewives’ choice Sam Heughan as Jimmy Dalton, and Guy Pearce as Dr Emil Harting. Pearce is a terrific actor, but really needs to think about quality control; whether a straight man to Adam Sandler (Bedtime Stories), the Duke of Edinburgh (The King’s Speech) or a man breaking out of a space-prison (Lockout), there’s literally no role that Pearce won’t play, and play well, but even he must regret a jaunt to South Africa to play a role like this.
‘You’ve already ripped off every movie cliché there is…a dancing lunatic playing Psycho Killer in a slaughterhouse,’ is a particularly self-effacing line here, but self-awareness only counts for so much when you’re simply describing the clichés in your own film. A better sample line would be Diesel’s ‘They filled my head with nightmares and sent me on a suicide mission,’ which generally captures the dour, indoor nature of most of David S.F. Wilson’s film. The elevated finale, with Diesel testing his indestructability in and around a moving lift on a skyscraper, is pretty good, and there’s a couple of brief but welcome bursts of action to leaven the glowering.
But a franchise? A film really needs to be something of a game-changer to support more than a sequel or two, and there’s not enough going on in Bloodshot to merit a few more trips to the well. Diesel has a track record with failing to expand his XXX and Riddick franchises without much success; despite a good supporting cast and some passable effects, Bloodshot is just another addition to his growing pile of busted pilots.