Vin Diesel’s deadpan persona normally inspires familiar confidence and enthusiasm, especially playing world saviors propelled by personal cause. Unfortunately, Riddick, Dominic Toretto, and Xander Cage aren’t even atomically visible in David S.F. Wilson’s “Bloodshot,” a superhero origin story adapted from the Valiant Comics character that is too self-contained for its own good. Reluctant military personnel forced into heroic service against their will is an interesting conceit. Sadly, the narrative unfolding is sloppier than a “Call of Duty” multiplayer round gone awry. When the most compelling character is a female whose superpowers are suppressed by male authority (Eiza González as morally conflicted ex-soldier, KT), you know half-measured potential is sacrificed for flashy macho shootouts without a morsel of style.
Diesel puts his natural “guns” to solemn use as Ray Garrison, a marine who cannot trust his own memories after repeated resurrection. Following a successful hostage rescue in Mombasa, Ray and his twenty-year junior wife, Gina (Talulah Riley), take a reprieve along Italy’s picturesque Amalfi Coast. Before he can fully unwind with his love, the couple is kidnapped and tortured to death by terrorist Martin Axe (Toby Kebbell). When Ray mysteriously awakens from the afterlife inside a biomedical cleanroom, he meets a group of scientists and disabled military veterans with cybernetic advancements. As they oversee his rehabilitation, Ray can’t help but remain skeptical of his miraculous revival.
The head of this cutting-edge research facility is Dr. Emil Hearting (Guy Pearce), a brilliant experimental scientist who creates military combat enhancements using nanotechnology. This allows bioengineered organisms to tap into Diesel’s central nervous system to create a new super-soldier capable of rapid tissue recovery, cortex communication with mission support, and instantaneous information processing. However, when tragic flashes of the past begin to cloud the training process, Ray’s instinct is to exact revenge against Axe and known associates. Jeff Wadlow and Eric Heisserer’s script takes a straight-forward approach to “Memento”’s paranoid memory recuperation, implanting doubt and conspiracy at every lifeless story bend.
Having way more fun than the titular hero is “Outlander’s” Sam Heughan as Jimmy Dalton, a fellow cybernetic ex-soldier who views his own hubris as a personal tonic. Dalton is your classic subordinate villain who steals thunder from the head nemesis with psychotic glee. In a scene that heavily borrows from the elevator brawl in “Captain America: Winter Soldier” – disrespectfully, one must emphasize – Heughan just rips into the absurdity of Dalton’s tunnel-visioned egocentrism. His high-energy vitriol awkwardly clashes with Diesel’s null personality.
Even Lamorne Morris’s hacker and tech savant, Wilfred Wigins, appears to enjoy the convoluted fiasco he’s found himself in. Foul British accent aside, Morris is a lighthearted late addition to Ray’s minuscule circle of trustworthy allies. It’s lamentable that the tonal disparity between Diesel and everyone else is so severe, leading viewers to wonder whether the wrong “player” was selected for this video-gamey technothriller.
When it comes to the evil machinations of corporate zealots exploiting noble patriots in the name of science, “Bloodshot” doesn’t quite hit the memorability target. Worse yet is the notion that he’s relevant to audiences when there’s already superhero fatigue setting in. Remove the moniker and genre and all you have is an ordinary marine whose unknown (and presumably valorous) past is rendered irrelevant. Where Bloodshot fits into the pop culture landscape is anyone’s guess, but for now he’s barely clinging to cinematic life.