The announcement that there will soon be a sequel to the 2020 Vin Diesel superhero actioner Bloodshot has mostly been met with bemusement. “Y Tho” is the dominant response expressed through numerous memes. To most it was a failed attempt to start a franchise (and people are for some reason aggressively negative about the thought of another cinematic universe), released with little fanfare on the eve of a pandemic which cut its chances short. The indoctrinated however, those who have seen the film were delighted.
To understand the film, you need to see Bloodshot as something other than a superhero franchise film. It instead needs to be seen in the lineage of Dredd, of Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, of plucky down and dirty action films whose reputation grows over time.
Bloodshot began as a character in the Valiant comics universe. Valiant Comics was formed as a company in 1989 releasing their first comic Magnus, Robot Fighter in 1991. There are great stories to be told about the 90s independent comic boom when creators like Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld were rock stars and could still make a fortune, before the collector market bubble burst nearly killing an industry. Characters were gritty, muscles and guns were huge and for some reason costumes had an abundance of pouches. They were very unwoke times but there is still a charm to this era I cannot deny.
Created by Kevin VanHook, Don Perlin and Bob Layton, Bloodshot debuted as a character in 1992 fit in to this style. Originally named Angelo Mortalli before later being renamed in preceding reboots to Ray Garrison (because he’s a one man army, get it?) the character is basically, in the tradition of Valiant comics an analogue for a popular hero from another universe. Bloodshot is an antihero in the vein of Wolverine or The Punisher whereas Harbinger was their take on a superhero team title like X-Men. In 2012 Valiant comics launched the Valiant Universe meaning characters interacted with each other and existed in the same world much like the DC or Marvel characters.
In 2015 DMG entertainment signed a nine-figure deal with Valiant to make films and TV series set within the Valiant universe. In March 2018, it was announced that Vin Diesel would star in Bloodshot the first film to launch this universe. However, before its release the rights to other characters were sold to different studios making Bloodshot a unique film, made to launch a universe but now unable to be connected to any of the other films. The movie is notably absent of the usual sting to set up the next film or in-jokes.
Which is then where Covid comes in. Covid has made studios choose to delay the release of films like Black Widow or Wonder Woman: 1984 meaning that Bloodshot is now not a second-tier superhero film but in fact one of the only superhero films released in 2020! Bloodshot was also, along with Trolls World Tour and The Hunt, one of the films to bypass the traditional waiting period and go to streaming direct from cinemas albeit at a premium price. The announcement of the second film interestingly acknowledges that the success of the film cannot be measured by the traditional box office metric in this our new normal.
A terse run through the plot of Bloodshot? Sure, if you make me. Ray Garrison played by the amazing Vin Diesel is a US Marine. After a successful hostage extraction against some generically foreign terrorists, Ray thanks his men, says something about teamwork and goes off for some R+R with his wife (Talulah Riley). They are kidnapped by a squad of mercenaries led by Martin Axe (played by Toby Kebbell). Kebbell dances around to Talking Heads in a meat locker before killing Ray’s wife and then Ray.
Ray wakes up in Kuala Lumpur with amnesia. He is told by scientist and CEO Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce) that he has been resurrected as part of the “Bloodshot” program. His blood has been replaced with nano robots that can heal him. He is basically indestructible. He can also interface with technology to find out whatever information he needs. As he bonds with the other members of the Bloodshot program, he remembers what happened to him and sets out for revenge on Axe.
The first indications that this is something extraordinary are the awesome visuals in the scenes where Ray catches up with Axe. Lit by a sparse selection of strong colours provided by emergency lighting, these scenes also take advantage of Ray’s healing powers to create visceral gruesome tableaus of his body being destroyed and healing. The obvious comparison is Robocop and whilst the film’s attempt to create a broad appeal means it can’t lean in to the gore as much as you may like, the film is better understood as a sci-fi action film than anything else.
The plot twist however is what reveals the true greatness of the film. Everything that seemed rote and cliché about the first half of the film is flipped on its head and you see that the first half was a parody of these kind of stereotypes. The film is actually fairly meta but not too meta that you can’t enjoy some fun action.
Watch it so you can say that you are in the first wave of appreciation for this future cult classic. It’s one of Diesel’s best roles outside of the Riddick films or his most succesful franchises. And not a Corona in sight.