The Pitch: It may be tough to remember a time before the present moment, considering the speed at which information, most of it catastrophic and unsettling, moves now. Every day a new onslaught of panic and paranoia, erasing the one from 24 hours before. Disease and an election that seems fixed to keep the rich and powerful precisely where they wish to be. In the midst of all this, landmarks and macabre ways to mark time. A strange finality sets in as events take a turn. Fear of contracting the virus COVID-19 in the year 2020 meant that most public gatherings have been cancelled.
By the time you read this, most of the films you may have been anticipating have been yanked from release calendars, for fear studios will take a bath, opening films to empty houses. At a certain point, everyone will have to remember the last movie they saw before they stopped going to the movie theatres so as not to stoke their fear of illness and death. For me, that was Bloodshot, starring Vin Diesel, an off-brand superhero movie based on a graphic novel about a super soldier who regenerates his flesh when you shoot him thanks to nano-technology. All things considered, it could have been worse.
Wash Your Hands: It’s pure coincidence that a movie about a man who can’t be harmed by anything drops at the height of a pandemic, but that’s the way of these things. We truly could have used the oiled hubris of Vin Diesel right now. Diesel is more god/movie star than man, and watching him defy death at every turn has become an internationally shared experience. Whether he’s driving cars into space or singlehandedly making alien species extinct, Diesel’s carefully curated persona is a tonic against the horrors of reality. He’s like Doris Day, in his way, so extremely specific and protected is his screen image.
Imagine my horror when I went to the opening night showing of Bloodshot and found myself in the company of no more than seven people. Not even Vin Diesel is pandemic proof, it seems. Fear of each other superseded our desire for escapism. You just don’t imagine you’d ever see times like this. It’s difficult not to think of Americans right as the market crash of 1929 hits, wondering just how bad things are about to get. You try not to let that get to you but trying not to panic and getting rid of a panic attack are two different things. I wonder how Vin Diesel is handling the news of coronavirus.
Don’t Touch Your Face: Is the movie good? Yeah, it’s a blast. I laughed frequently when the movie wanted me to and many times when I’m sure it didn’t. The opening of the movie is so rife with classically Diesel macho posturing it seems like self-parody, and you learn later it kind of is, but it was fun to imagine a world where a soldier gets off a plane directly from a hostage crisis in the Middle East, rips his fatigues off to let his muscles breathe, and immediately hops into a Corvette with his wife (Talulah Riley) headed for the Amalfi Coast. That’s just funny.
Of course, bliss never lasts in movies like this, so some guys show up to kill Diesel and his wife and set him on a course for revenge. A shady organization run by Guy Pearce helps him by filling him with nanobots that regrow his flesh when he gets shot or stabbed. So, off he goes to get his revenge, but of course nothing’s ever that easy. After all, why introduce a whole team of enhanced super soldiers if this movie is just about Vin Diesel going rogue to get satisfying revenge in the first act.
Avoid Crowded Spaces: The thing I think I love most about Vin Diesel is that part of his image, in centrist and safe Hollywood, involves being more of a man than everybody else. And that includes cops and soldiers. Mild spoiler here, but one of the antagonists, the guy who pisses Diesel off the most in the whole movie, who will later sacrifice one of his own men for no reason, is supposed to have been on Seal Team 6 when they killed Osama bin Laden. Diesel believing that he’s more of a skilled and disciplined warrior than a guy responsible for assassinating the most hated man in the world is just so perfect; like he spent weeks trying to come up with the one man he needed to best in a competition of strength and honor and came up with: double amputee who iced bin Laden.
How do you argue with the purity of that? It’s so silly. Also good value: Eiza González as his sidekick, who, despite being about 90 pounds, keeps throwing huge men into walls and stuff. What starts as a kind of winking parody of action movie ends as just another action movie, but that’s basically what we paid to see. The director wakes up a few times: there’s a great scene with Toby Kebbell in a meat locker, the lighting’s occasionally interesting, but on the whole, the images just fold into each other. Too much modern action cinema looks like a flip book after four whiskeys. There’s no meaning behind any of these things, the men hit each other, buildings blow up, and Diesel never dies.
The Verdict: Bloodshot accidentally calls out the hollowness of every superhero movie by trying to beat them at their own game. It admits Vin is a tool to be deployed in very specific circumstances, it comes so close to self-awareness but drops the ball. In order to actually play as auto-critique, it would have to be a much better movie with a real director, but I admired the attempt, as I always do whenever Vin’s on screen. In the canon of his films, this was funnier than most of the Fast & Furious things, but not as good or entertaining as the Riddick movies or The Last Witch Hunter. His heart was clearly in those. He tries to emote a little here and it doesn’t go well. We didn’t pay to see Vin Diesel emote.
Where’s It Playing? Whichever theaters are still open near you.