We Have the Power, We Can Make You Better
Marvel pulled off quite a feat back in 2012. After the success of Iron Man (itself quite the coup, proving that C-list superheroes could do well on the big screen), they grew their heroes into a big, cross-franchise event film that, at the time, made all the money ever. After the success of The Avengers, everyone needed to have their own "Cinematic Universe" to compete against Marvel's Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe., from DC ComicsOne of the two biggest comic publishing companies in the world (and, depending on what big events are going on, the number one company), DC Comics is the home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and just about every big superhero introduced in the 1930s and 1940s. and the DC Extended UniverseStarted as DC Comics' answer to the MCU, the early films in the franchise stumbled out of the gates, often mired in grim-dark storytelling and the rushed need to get this franchise started. Eventually, though, the films began to even out, becoming better as they went along. Still, this franchise has a long way to go before it's true completion for Marvel's universe. to Universal Pictures and the Dark Universe, Godzilla and King Kong eventually crossing together for the MonsterVerse, and more. Hell even Unbreakable had to have a shared universe; Hollywood was obsessed.
What most studios learned (through trial and error), though, was that shared universes were hard to build. The studios all rushed in to make their own big continuities, investing all their hopes on the first movie expecting audiences to flock at the very mention of a "shared universe". What the studio execs didn't get was that fans appreciated the MCU because it spent years building up the individual heroes so that the crossover felt like a pay off. Just jumping in immediately and saying "this will be a Cinematic Universe" didn't get anyone excited for future films. It had to be earned, not forced.
Recently, another shared universe hopeful came, and went, at the Box Office. Released in March of this year, the Vin Diesel-starring Bloodshot was hobbled by the Coronavirus outbreak, coming out two weeks before all the movie theaters worldwide were shut down. But even if the film hadn't been the victim of bad timing, I doubt this film would have launched a planned "Valiant Comics Universe" because, frankly, this movie just isn't good. It had a few neat ideas but it's hobbled by a lackluster story and indifferent direction. Usually Vin Diesel can be trusted to turn out a film that's fun to watch, goofy and silly even if it's not a "good" movie, but Bloodshot lacks all the fun needed to get us invested. It's a two hour slog with barely a sign of (reanimated) life.
In the film, Diesel stars as Ray Garrison, a soldier returned from conflict who just wants to settle in with his wife, Gina (Talulah Riley). They go for a long holiday on a coastal city, paradise with sun and sand, but their trip is interrupted by an evil madman, Martin Axe (Toby Kebbell). Axe wants information about the mission Rat had just been on, but Ray just followed orders and wasn't privy to the intelligence that led to the mission ,Lacking the info Axe needs, the villain kills both Gina and Ray.
However, Ray later wakes up in a lab at Rising Spirit Tech, a business that assists ex-military with bio tech to help them recover from injuries. Guided by Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce), Ray slowly begins to remember what happened to him. Ray wants his revenge, and now he has to ability to get it not just having been brought back from the dead but also because the revivification tech, nanites that replaced Ray's entire bloodstream, give him superpowers: enhanced strength, tech hacking from his brain, and regenerative healing. Ray is a one-man army bent on a single mission: to get his revenge.
But once Axe is dead (in a decent bit of action film making), Ray is shut down by RST. That's when we learn the truth: Ray is just a pawn, controlled by Harting. After each mission his memory is wiped and a new face is applied to the memory of his wife's killer. Ray has been used, time and again, to wiped out people on a list of targets that Harting chooses, all to secure RST for Harting's own personal gain. To truly get justice, and free himself from RST's clutches, Ray will have to go rogue and take the tech within his body to fight the very system that revived him.
In concept, Bloodshot could work. It's certainly had enough stories to power three versions of this character in the Valiant publishing line over the years. The idea of a guy brought back from the dead, enhanced with technology to fight crime, has been around for years -- hell, just off the top of my head there's the Six Million Dollar Man. But while it's a neat idea in concept, the film has to be able to do something with the idea, to tell us a story that's interesting and different, and that's what 2020's Bloodshot falls apart.
Part of the problem is that nothing in the movie is surprising. The movie plays the fact that Ray is just a pawn like a big twist, but that twist doesn't work if you've already seen the trailer for the film. The film plays up Ray's quest for revenge as a big deal, a cathartic moment, but it's spoiled by the information gleaned from the trailer such that you can't even get invested in the big set piece of Ray kicking ass and taking names as he hunts down Axe and "avenges" himself.
You might think it's harsh to judge the film based on information from the trailer, but that trailer is the only way any number of people are going to know about, and want to watch, this film. Bloodshot isn't a famous character like The HulkOnce the brilliant Dr. Bruce Banner had dreams of making the world a better place by building super soldiers to act as a shield for all mankind. Then an accident at his lab bathed him in gamma radiation. Now he has a living nightmare, as a big green guy lives within, just waiting for the rage to take over so he can be free. or Wonder WomanLong considered the third pillar of the DC Comics "Trinity", Wonder Woman was one of the first female superheroes ever created. Running for as long as Batman or Superman (and without breaks despite a comic downturn in the 60s that killed superhero comics for about a decade), Wondie has the honor to be one of the longest serving, and most prolific, superheroes ever., so just using his name alone isn't enough to sell the character. The studio really wanted us to know the big twist of the film, a twist that isn't revealed until the halfway point of the actual movie, since the twist is also the major hook. They couldn't trust that the character was interesting enough on his own, so they spoil the plot in the trailer, which only serves to undermine the movie.
Of course, part of the reason they had to play up the twist of the story is that, on his own, Ray just isn't that interesting of a character. Yes, his powers are interesting, but the character is played by Diesel like a dour slab of animate meat. I like Diesel and think he brings personality to even his dumber roles, like xXx and The Last Witch Hunter. Here, though, Diesel brings none of his gruff charm or coy humor. This is as flat and lifeless as a character can get, ironic considering the story is supposed to be about him being revived from a dead husk.
The film doesn't manage to find any life until well past the half-way mark. That's when a new tech character, Wilfred Wigans (Lamorne Morris), is introduced. Wigans is your default tech egghead character, as generic a character as they come, designed by studios to give us a computer genius that they don't actually have to explain. "Oh, he just knows how to hack this biotech system he's never seen before. Sure." The character is awful, a Hollywood trope if ever there was one, but Morris (of New Girl) manages to inject humor and life into the role. He's not great, but he's genuinely the only interesting character in this whole morass.
And, frankly, the action just isn't that great. The nanite special effects are interesting, but they also remove all threat from the film. When you have a hero that can survive anything (because the little bots in his "blood" will revive him, no matter the damage) all the stress of the action set pieces is lost. It all amount to a bunch of sound and fury, big flashes of action without anything to back them up. There are two big set pieces, the first attack on Axe and then a final showdown between Ray and the soldiers of RST, and I hardly cared about either of them; that's hardly a good look for a superhero action film.
It's hard to see how the studio thought this film was going to launch a Valiant Cinematic Universe. If the trailer is any indication they hardly trusted the film and they certainly didn't expect audiences to turn out without a lot of prompting. If anything, the Coronavirus did the film a service: by getting shoved out of theaters before word-of-mouth got too bad, the film will probably find new life as direct-to-video outlets. But as the start of a bigger chapter for Valiant's film making hopes, this film is just like so many other Cinematic Universe hopefuls: a miscalculated mess that forgets to build a real hero around its core before it widens its scope for what's next.