Movie review: In 'Bloodshot,' Vin Diesel glowers and growls as a bionic assassin

In "Bloodshot," Vin Diesel plays a former soldier who is given powers of regeneration, super strength and shape-shifting after nanites are injected into his blood.


By MICHAEL O’SULLIVAN | The Washington Post | Published: March 12, 2020

Ray Garrison isn’t feeling quite himself.

Played by Vin Diesel in "Bloodshot," the former elite U.S. commando, after dying before the opening credits, wakes up on a hospital gurney inside a gleaming skyscraper to find that his body has been donated by the military to science -- specifically the firm Rising Spirit Technologies, whose founder Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce, sporting a bionic arm, two-day stubble and an untrustworthy twinkle in his eye) has resuscitated Ray, turning him into a cybernetically enhanced super-soldier.

Ray is now (a) plagued by amnesia and dim memories that may or may not have been implanted; (b) powered by microscopic "nanites" that have been injected into his bloodstream, giving him the power to heal grievous injuries like magic, punch holes in concrete pillars and conduct internet searches without opening Google Chrome; and (c) programmed to be a killing machine.

In short, he is a character who, although ostensibly inspired by a comic book superhero created in 1992, also seems, in this derivative and unengaging action thriller, to have been cobbled together from spare parts belonging to Frankenstein’s monster, Jason Bourne, Marvel’s Wolverine, Douglas Quaid in "Total Recall" and the Terminator - both the shape-shifting, liquid-metal T-1000 and the old-school-meathead Model 101.

The film mostly involves Ray pursuing single-minded vengeance, first against the man (Toby Kebbell) who he believes killed him and tortured his wife (Talulah Riley) in the film’s opening scene, and then against - well, to tell you that would be to ruin the film’s only plot twist. Not that it’s that great, or even very hard to suss out.

The plot feels familiar. The dialogue is lame and obvious. As an actor, Diesel has, like his Groot character in the "Guardians of the Galaxy" films, only one emotional setting: growl. And the action, save for some moderately cool slow-motion shots and a protracted fight sequence that takes place in a glassed-in elevator shaft, is for the most part murky, chaotic and as hard to follow as it is to care about the outcome.

But there’s a bigger problem with "Bloodshot," which is filled with such violent, action-thriller tropes as a bad guy who dances to the Talking Heads’ "Psycho Killer" in a meat locker while wielding a cattle-bolt gun. If that sounds like a scene you’ve seen somewhere before, the film purports to be all winky-winky meta and self-aware about what it’s doing.

After all, the computer program that controls Ray includes, among its small number of options, "hero mode" and "revenge mode," as if commenting on the limitations of this genre. At one point, Harting chides an underling (Siddharth Dhananjay), a Rising Spirit coder who traffics in creating video-game-like simulations that are meant to feel - to Ray and, presumably, to us - like real life, for ripping off "every movie cliche there is."

If we’re supposed to laugh at Harting’s joke, an attempt to inoculate the film against criticisms of staleness, it cuts a little too close to the bone to work.

Is Ray defined by his past as a soldier (or whatever he really was)? By his present as a cyborg assassin? Or by his future as the titular superhero Bloodshot? These questions are raised, but not in an interesting way, by a film that would rather just have fun.

The movie is presented as the story of a man who hasn’t figured out who he is yet. But that’s not quite right. Instead, it’s a movie that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be when it grows up.

"Bloodshot" is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, some suggestive material and strong language. Running time: 109 minutes.