Vin Diesel Bleeds Out in the Cinema Debut of Valiant Comics.
DIRECTED BY DAVE S.F. WILSON/2020
With his new comic book adaptation Bloodshot, Vin Diesel’s scorpion-like tough exterior, well-armed but unable to swim alone across the current tide of blockbusters, must hitch a ride on the backside of the healthy, hopping of the thriving superhero sub-genre, which in this appropriation of an ancient analogy, is a healthy frog. “Just don’t sting me”, says the frog. “I’ve got a good thing going here.” The star replies, “Don’t worry, I’m bringing my best to table. Unrelenting action, exotic global locales, extreme visual effects, and my unique capacity for doughboy fragility. I am resilient. I am formidable. I am a scorpion.” “Okay, hop on. Just don’t sting me!”
And, he’s off. Never mind that he’s been the voice of fan favorite Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy for years, Vin Diesel needs his own live-action superhero franchise. And not just a character in an existing film franchise. He aims to be the potential Robert Downey Jr. for a whole new subsection of possible comic book adaptations. He will usher in an uncompromising boldness of vision, intelligence, and originality. No one can impersonate him; his features and vocal cadence are far too unique. He is Vin Diesel, and now you will know him as… Bloodshot.
At least, that’s the idea that’s been implanted in his head. As far as a would-be action blockbuster created fully in service of a superstar in need of a franchise, Bloodshot isn’t the worst version of itself. It tries, oh lord it tries, to carry on as a smartly twisty violent showcase ala Total Recall. And to some degree, it succeeds. But said twists, as intriguing as they are, merely impact the narrative. As my film critic cohort Max Foizey pointed out, a lot of that would’ve been far more effective if the movie itself shifted with them. Alas, even as it calls itself out Jurassic World-style for being the kind of movie it starts out as (that being a cliché action/revenge movie), it remains locked in the key of aggression for aggression’s sake. But this being Vin Diesel at the center, we soon see that under that tough jaw-smashing tough exterior lies an all-too-human fragility.
It goes like this: Diesel plays Ray Garrison, a kickass U.S. military soldier who heroically intercedes in a tense situation. From there, he retires to a sub-drenched life of bliss with his beautiful wife. (As though that’s how it goes for veterans). But the bad guys are still out there. They kidnap him, and exact horrible, if ridiculously cliched revenge. They murder him.
Ray wakes up in a strange high-tech operating facility run by Guy Pearce that specializes in high-end prosthetics, having been resurrected, infused with rapid-repair nanobots in lieu of an actual bloodstream. If, say, Ray gets the side of his face blown off (and he immediately does), it’s fixed in ten seconds. Cool, I suppose. Apparently, the nanobots themselves are impervious to such violence. Which must be convenient, since he quickly sets off on a personal mission to settle score with the aforementioned bad guys. Constantly being blown apart but then immediately reassembled makes Ray in some ways the embodiment of thin-skinned bro culture, coupled with its wish-fulfillment fantasy of invincibility and unrelenting drive.
But then… we come to learn that things aren’t as they seem, particularly not Ray’s little righteous revenge quest. Previous patients of Pearce’s lab, each sporting a different cybernetic enhancement (almost as though they were superhuman…!) come increasingly into play. One of them, an attractive higher-up with a robotic breathing apparatus (Eiza Gonzáles), takes on a particularly prominent role. Though despite all the obligatory brawling and bashing, the Bloodshot has an unapologetic way of weirdly veering into long stretches of “coding wars” as two opposing tech heads duke it out behind computer screens while exposition goes flying everywhere. In these sequences, Diesel himself becomes a supporting player, all but gone from the movie. Which lends credence to a broader analysis that no one asking for in how the tough “bros” of today aren’t in control the ways that they like to think that they are. With a few more rewrites, ideally by a proven hard sci-fi author, maybe these cornels of thought might’ve been seeded for real growth. Alas, we come away wondering, who or what is Bloodshot?
Flashback: to the comic book speculation boom of the early 1990s. Alongside the instance of Marvel Comics going public and consequently needing to publish 180 titles per month to appease shareholders, and DC Comics’ headline-nabbing “Death of Superman” and “Batman: Knightfall”, there were the upstarts. Newfangled players such as Malibu Comics’ Ultraverse, Image Comics, and Valiant Entertainment promised a whole new array of dynamic and interesting four-color tales to obsessively collect each month. And with them, eye-catching gimmicks: covers that pop-up, glow in the dark, form puzzles, boast indestructibility. (We tested that last one. It was not indestructible).
The latter company, Valiant, is a particularly interesting case. With its handful of regurgitated forgotten characters of the 1960s (Magnus: Robot Fighter, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter), it ambitiously launched a glowing assortment of fresh heroes and antiheroes that no one asked for. In the case of Bloodshot, an apparent Punisher/Wolverine/RoboCop mashup, the unique and impossible-not-to-notice chromium cover of his first issue assured sales through the roof. Consequently, to this day, the phrase “bestselling comic book” is associated with this otherwise forgotten intellectual property.
Today, as Valiant (rebirthed as “Valiant Entertainment”) once again makes a stand to get a piece of Marvel & DC’s pie, the field has evolved well beyond comic books. Big fat superhero action movies are the current frontier, and Valiant has gotten in the ring. Not, however, with Turok or Magnus or one of its better-known characters. This bold launch of what may or may not be a Valiant Cinematic Universe arrives to theaters with… Bloodshot. But not to be overlooked, this new actioner boasts a kind of chromium cover all its own in its star, Diesel.
Vin Diesel… what a strange case indeed. Whereas his fellow musclebound Fast and the Furious costar (And ostensible social media enemy) Dwayne Johnson maintains a persona of being sociable if omnipresent, Diesel has emerged as the opposite: Enigmatic and sparse on the screen. Their film selections outside of the Fast and the Furious series do have one thing in common: mediocrity. In light of franchise attempts such as The Last Witch Hunter, xXx, and the fizzled Riddick series, there’s no reason whatsoever to approach Bloodshot with any positive expectations. Though Diesel has at times proven himself a good actor, it’s been far too long. (How long? Sidney Lumet has been dead for a while, and Diesel effectively starred in the director’s second-to-last film, the courtroom rollick Find Me Guilty).
Therefore, should one choose to venture out to see Bloodshot, one would be wise to maintain such level of expectations. Only then, can there be the pleasant surprise of the film’s occasional swerve into standout visuals and ideas. And it is true, if nothing else can be said about blood shot, it is a triumph of color correction and speed ramping. Amid the film’s many darkly lit stylish control rooms and tech facilities, as well as its scenic visits to sunny Italy and merry old London, post production tinkering emerges as director (and former visual effects guy) David S. F. Wilson’s preferred method of exploding beyond all the other overly familiar tropes he’s dealing with.
Anyhow, to conclude the opening analogy, the superhero-movie frog effortlessly hops across the River of Box Office Tumult (such as it is in the moment) with the Vin Diesel Bloodshot scorpion on its back. Despite the repeated promise by the scorpion to not fatally sting the frog, it stings him anyway. The frog reacts- not with death throes but with a certain imperviousness. “Wait… you just stung me, but I’m fine. What’s going on here?” Incredulously, the scorpion replies, “What did you expect? I’m Bloodshot.”