You would think that by 2020, Hollywood would have gotten superheroes, comic book adaptations and shared universes down to a pretty reliable science. Sure, the odd time you get a low-grade, guilty pleasure-worthy misfire like Venom, but at this point, both Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe and Warner Bros.’ DC Extended Universe in particular appear to have firmly staked the territory of big screen shared superhero universes. Despite that however, competing studios still look upon the monumental amount of cash amassed by the MCU and DCEU, among other budding shared universes like Warner Bros.’ Monsterverse, Universal’s Fast-Verse and New Line Cinema’s Conjuring universe, with absolute envy. This is why we still get baffling, ill-advised shared universe experiments hitting the mainstream movie calendar every so often. Yes, more baffling than Venom, despite the fact that Venom nonetheless made money, practically by accident.
It’s all too fitting that I mention Venom as well, because Bloodshot seems to have spawned from a similar line of thinking at Sony Pictures. Like Venom however, Bloodshot, at the very least, has some justification when it comes to trying to be a cornerstone of another shared cinematic universe. After all, Venom is still based on a Marvel Comics property, albeit one handled entirely by Sony instead of Disney, and likewise, Bloodshot is an adaptation of a cult favourite character originating from Valiant Comics, himself part of a smaller, but still fairly celebrated shared comic book universe. Like most Marvel and DC personalities, Bloodshot, a.k.a. Ray Garrison, was meant to co-exist alongside other superheroes and super-villains in one persistent world, so why can’t the same dream be achieved at the movies? After all, if Marvel and DC can both launch shared cinematic continuities between almost all of their modern superhero movie offerings (with only passing exceptions like Venom and Joker), why not Valiant?
Well, I’ll tell you why not; Bloodshot is bad. It’s quite bad, actually. Bloodshot is like a low-rent Venom, which was already a low-rent Marvel movie. Whereas Venom managed to squeak by and be passable off the back of Tom Hardy’s highly entertaining dual lead performance though, Bloodshot is just pointless and head-scratching. It’s impossible to believe that Valiant wants this to be their first impression at the movies, a first impression being made when they’re already extremely late to the superhero movie party! Then again, the fact that Valiant already pulled out of their initial shared cinematic universe agreement with Sony during Bloodshot’s production, subsequently setting up their next planned movie adaptation, Harbinger at Paramount instead, was already a pretty huge warning sign.
It’s no wonder why as well. Bloodshot’s script is already a mess, having surprisingly little to do with its titular character’s comic book inspiration to boot, but the fact that Sony pawned it off on first-time feature director, David S.F. Wilson also doesn’t help matters. Sony probably thought that they could still squeeze out an international-skewing franchise on the cheap from Bloodshot, particularly off the back of lead star, Vin Diesel and his Fast & Furious pedigree. Even then however, it doesn’t exactly take a global pandemic eating into this movie’s already dismal box office returns to solidify the fact that, if Valiant is truly capable of a shared cinematic universe akin to the MCU or DCEU in the first place, they’re definitely not going to get it from Bloodshot.
Bloodshot’s entire roster of characters is paper-thin. Even Vin Diesel’s Ray Garrison is a hunk of brick, a mostly lethargic do-gooder that serves as an easy surrogate for the fanboys in the audience. Diesel is capable of some really great charisma within the right project, which has been proven many times by his several MCU appearances as Groot, his long stint headlining Universal’s Fast & Furious franchise, and even some more cult-oriented offerings, such as the Riddick movies. In Bloodshot however, Diesel just seems bored. He’s clearly been given very limited direction, and worse still is that Ray’s character is a shallow cliche throughout this entire movie anyway, being the latest soldier boy out to avenge someone, namely his wife, who is killed by a psychopath named Martin Axe, played by Toby Kebbell.
Now, there is a character called ‘Ax’ in Valiant Comics lore (this movie didn’t even bother to spell his name correctly!), but Kebbell’s Martin Axe has nothing to do with him. Valiant Comics’ Ax is a technopath and computer whiz who also happens to be a Harbinger, which are essentially the Valiant Universe’s version of Marvel’s ‘mutant’ characters, specifically people in the Marvel Universe who manifest superpowers at random due to unique genetics, often serving as the basis for Marvel’s X-Men franchise. You can perhaps see the problem right there then; Valiant took back the Harbinger movie rights from Sony, and gave them to Paramount, hence why Kebbell’s Martin Axe can’t have any connection to the Harbingers, who no longer appear to exist in this now-standalone Bloodshot movie universe. I would tell you more about Kebbell’s Martin Axe, but there’s nothing to truly know. He’s just a target for Ray to go after, and nothing else. Boy, Toby Kebbell has some truly rotten luck when it comes to playing major roles in comic book movies, considering that this quasi-written plot device is what’s following his last well-known comic book movie role, as arch-villain, Doctor Doom in 2015’s disastrous Fantastic Four reboot from 20th Century Fox.
Are there any other characters in this movie with a genuine connection to the Valiant Comics Universe? Well, no, not really, and that’s one of the weirdest parts of Bloodshot; Outside of Ray/Bloodshot himself, and maybe Martin Axe, if you squint a lot, there are no other characters in this movie that appear to be taken from Bloodshot’s comic book inspiration. This is just bizarre. Then again, perhaps it’s once again explained by the simple reality that Sony appears to have lost the majority of their film adaptation deal with Valiant. It’s possible that Valiant’s contract with Sony still allows Sony to retain distribution rights of the Bloodshot movie franchise even after Valiant’s defection to Paramount, as well as movie rights to Bloodshot himself, but because so many characters planned for this movie were clearly tied to Valiant’s Harbinger franchise, Sony had to improvise by changing all of their names, along with many elements of their backstory and abilities.
I can further bolster this theory by referencing Bloodshot’s lead scientist character, played by Guy Pearce, whose name is Dr. Emil Harting. You see, in the Bloodshot comic books, Bloodshot runs afoul of a crooked Harbinger-connected scientist named Dr. Emmanuel Kuretich, which is probably exactly who Guy Pearce was supposed to portray originally, considering how similar the names are (I would normally constitute Harting being the main villain of this movie as a spoiler, but the trailers already liberally gave this ‘twist’ away!), until Sony slightly altered this character’s identity in Bloodshot’s final product, after the Harbinger movie rights went to Paramount. Likewise, Eiza Gonzalez plays a female lead in Bloodshot, a field medic with an artificial respirator named, “KT”, who is unable to leave the premises of Rising Spirit Technologies, a loose play on Valiant Comics’ corrupt tech firm, Project Rising Spirit. One of Bloodshot’s key female supporting characters in the Valiant Comics Universe is an ambulance driver that similarly assists Bloodshot. See the pattern? Sony appears to have very slightly altered several elements of familiar Bloodshot and Harbinger comic book characters, in order to completely remove any connections to Valiant’s Harbinger franchise, while injecting some of their own unique spin on Bloodshot lore, by re-framing Bloodshot as a tech-fueled revenge thriller that mostly steals plot elements from Robocop and Terminator.
To be fair, Sony blatantly tweaking their Bloodshot movie characters to skirt around the fact that they no longer have the Harbinger movie rights would be absolutely fine, if said characters were well fleshed-out, interesting, or even slightly engaging. Instead, Bloodshot’s cast sleepwalk through their roles, which is only occasionally broken up by incomprehensible action shots, and a boilerplate, peanut gallery-pandering set of ‘dramatic’ twists, which were almost entirely spoiled throughout this movie’s trailers anyway! The characters on display have some cool ideas behind them, especially when Bloodshot gets some time to revel in its admittedly imaginative, tech-heavy world, but they never go beyond the surface level. This leaves Bloodshot as a by-the-numbers revenge thriller with some shiny superhero gloss layered on top of it, though even then, it pales in comparison to the scale and imagination behind any Marvel or DC flick worth their salt.
Despite this first attempt at a Bloodshot movie ultimately being immensely disappointing, perhaps the biggest disappointment of all is that this movie’s concept is actually extremely promising on paper. Sure, there are familiar story inspirations surrounding this character, but the idea behind Bloodshot himself is legitimately cool. This character is among one of the most popular, acclaimed superheroes in the Valiant Comics Universe, and for good reason. He’s a dead soldier whose body is donated to a corrupt scientific firm, who use him as a test subject for a super-soldier program based around filling his bloodstream with billions of microscopic machines called, “Nanites.” These Nanites give Bloodshot superhuman strength, stamina, durability and speed, they can allow him to quickly heal from most injuries, freely interface with any technology, and in the Valiant Comics Universe anyway, the Nanites even allow Bloodshot to shapeshift and camouflage. That’s an appealing suite of powers, and the hook of Bloodshot being a puppet of an evil organization who sends him after the targets they want to kill, while manipulating his memory to trick him into thinking he has a personal vendetta against these targets, is actually very interesting, even if it does echo Robocop a little bit.
So, my question remains, how can Bloodshot take a character that’s this cool on paper, and somehow make him this boring?! Not only do Bloodshot’s powers too often feel gimped in this movie (the shapeshifting and camouflage powers don’t even appear to exist within this cinematic version of the character), but his enemies range from either stock targets, or stock scientist manipulators, who are evil for the sake of being evil, and simply do bad things because they can. That’s even worse when this movie’s trailers already lay out the entire plot; Ray Garrison is killed, Ray Garrison is resurrected as Bloodshot by Rising Spirit Technologies, Bloodshot goes to hunt down everyone he thinks killed him and his wife, Bloodshot eventually discovers he’s been tricked, Bloodshot goes after the people who tricked him. There’s nothing to spoil! This is the most boilerplate superhero movie storyline since 2015’s Fantastic Four!
This is such a shame, because Bloodshot, as a character, has lent himself to some really cool storylines in Valiant Comics lore. The problem is, many of Bloodshot’s best comic book storylines are tied up in Valiant’s Harbinger franchise, most notably the “Harbinger Wars” story arc, which is what Sony’s originally planned ‘Valiant Cinematic Universe’ was supposed to lead up to, before the Harbinger movie rights were instead handed over to Paramount. This leaves Bloodshot trying to subsist on whatever’s left from the aborted tie-ins with Harbinger, and the result is a shallow, predictable plot that completely fails to engage the audience, let alone set the stage for any further Valiant properties to make their way to this stillborn Bloodshot movie universe.
David S.F. Wilson makes his feature film directing debut with Bloodshot, after a lengthy career as a visual effects artist and director for… Video games? Yes, in a rather interesting move, Sony hired Wilson to direct a franchise-launching superhero blockbuster, despite most of his artistic career being in an entirely different medium. Wilson has at least experimented with the film and TV medium, having helmed one short within Netflix’s Love, Death & Robots, as well as serving as an artistic consultant on, funny enough, a Marvel Studios movie (specifically, 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron), but Wilson’s Blur Studio outfit has otherwise entirely thrived in the video game medium. If ever there was proof that this was probably work-for-hire for Wilson, it’s probably that.
Even the mere act of hiring a visual effects designer over an experienced feature director tends to result in a rather obvious problem for major studio movies; These kinds of directors are often more interested in directing the sets, rather than the actors. This seems apparent all throughout Bloodshot, which is at least defensible in the sense that it’s very visually polished, and very well-presented, at least looking the part of a major studio blockbuster. Outside of that though, Wilson’s direction is listless, inconsistent and often just plain weird. It consistently feels like Sony hired Wilson to patch together a semi-marketable movie that simply looks like a superhero movie, something that they can sell, to have something to show when it comes to their former collaboration with Valiant. Bloodshot’s entire final product feels like Sony reverse-engineered a blockbuster from the table scraps of franchise rights that were mostly ripped away from them, which is no doubt exactly what happened, considering that Valiant abruptly terminated their original movie agreement with Sony, long before Bloodshot had finished production.
What’s also not helping Wilson’s shaky direction is the fact that Bloodshot, despite its polished appearance, is otherwise very cheaply-produced, having a paltry budget of $45 million. This movie’s glossy veneer quickly gives way to a production that’s constantly obscuring action, shot incomprehensibly, and put together with all the enthusiasm of a fifth grade book report. There is at least one decent action scene during Bloodshot, specifically during the climax, but even that is so packed with CGI that it’s difficult to really feel the stakes from it. It just feels like no one had any faith in Bloodshot during its filming and post-production. This leads to a wannabe superhero movie franchise starter that simply doesn’t care about its final product, and maybe that’s inevitable when the rest of its world fled to another studio.
Considering the often ambitious, striking scores of the MCU and DCEU, composer, Steve Jablonsky had a golden opportunity to arrange a riveting, tech-centric musical suite for Bloodshot, or, at the very least, a music selection that at least attempts to compensate for such an uninteresting, un-engaging storyline. Ultimately though, Bloodshot’s best musical contribution is a painfully on-the-nose use of Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” during a key scene early in the movie, which feels like it’s trying to channel Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, if Reservoir Dogs clearly wasn’t trying. Everything else among the soundtrack feels like the bare minimum of effort, without any real distinction. Bloodshot’s score isn’t trying much harder than so many other elements of production that were very clearly a write-off, leaving you weirdly longing for Jablonsky’s Transformers movie scores. At least those made an impression!
The rest of the audio design in Bloodshot can be quite scattershot as well. Perhaps in an IMAX theatre (as hilarious as it is that Bloodshot thought it was good enough for an IMAX ticket, when movie theatres were all still open for business), the audio design could be better appreciated. After all, there are some moments of loud, pronounced hits, scrapes and explosions, as if the sound engineers at least were a little invested in keeping the audience awake. Since just about everybody is being forced to watch Bloodshot at home at this point though (unless you’re ‘lucky’ enough to stumble upon it at a drive-in theatre or something), it just can’t convey the proper intensity in its action scenes. Hell, even if one was watching it in a theatre, Bloodshot just sounds off sometimes, and not even high-powered theatre speakers can really fix that. This isn’t helped by the camera constantly cutting away from key moments in the action either, with Sony clearly tripping over themselves to save a buck at every possible opportunity, because that’s always a sign of a worthwhile superhero blockbuster, right?
I will say one thing in Bloodshot’s favour; Its special effects and set design are actually pretty solid. This is why it’s extra frustrating that Bloodshot clearly cut so many corners during production, in order to keep the budget down. Director, Wilson has a pretty talented portfolio of effects work, even if most of it is in video games, and this helps Bloodshot at least look the part of a would-be Valiant cinematic universe launcher. Its sets, while frequently filled with CGI, actually do manage to present a fairly imaginative, tech-heavy world, one that does leap off of the page of Valiant’s Bloodshot comic books fairly effectively. Likewise, the effects on Bloodshot himself are fairly cool, portraying clusters of Nanites breaking off of Ray Garrison’s flesh with every gunshot and blunt force injury, only to quickly reform amid slow-motion and other effects trickery. In a better movie, this could have been a wonderfully distinct take on a tech-based superhero.
Too often though, Bloodshot’s cost-cutting direction just ruins its visuals. The action scenes are shot so haphazardly that they’re often impossible to make out, leaving one of the main draws of Bloodshot, specifically the actual display and application of Bloodshot’s powers, constantly feeling neutered and unimpressive, especially in contrast to Bloodshot’s more ambitious superpower uses from Valiant Comics lore. The movie’s CGI-laden climax is one exception to this rule, and clearly where most of Sony’s production money went, but that comes way too far into the movie to make any difference. As it stands, Bloodshot gives us a tantalizing glimpse of a cinematic Valiant Universe that never was, one practically killed in the crib when Valiant abandoned its shared movie universe deal with Sony, leaving Sony trying to salvage the remains of that deal at the lowest cost possible. Something tells me that an IMAX screen wouldn’t have helped salvage this experience any further either.
Valiant Comics has already taken far too long to bring one of their superheroes to the big screen (or, in most cases, your home screen, thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic shutting down most movie theatres across the world), and adding insult to injury is how spectacularly Bloodshot fails to launch. This movie is a very clear victim of the creative and business dispute that appears to have taken place between Valiant and Sony, leaving Sony with a set of superhero movie rights that they can’t properly utilize, while Valiant scuttles its original long-running movie deal with the studio, in favour of defecting to Paramount for their more crucial Harbinger movies. Thus, it’s practically inevitable that Bloodshot would not live up to fan expectations, or even the expectations of any mildly interested moviegoer.
I can only theorize what specifically led to this collapse in the Valiant-Sony partnership. Instead, all I, and other moviegoers can do, is simply hope that Paramount can do better with the Harbinger franchise. Valiant has some truly good comic book characters under their belt, and several of them do have legitimate big screen potential. Bloodshot is one of them as well, which is why I hope that someday, likely far in the future, Bloodshot can eventually get another, er, shot at a truly satisfying, better-made movie adaptation.
As it stands though, Bloodshot sinks like a lead balloon, and marks a rather bad first impression for Valiant’s properties in the movie space. Even considering that executive dreams of a ‘Valiant Cinematic Universe’ are probably a bit unlikely to begin with (though I’m open to being surprised someday), Bloodshot fails even by those standards. It’s a dull movie that looks fairly nice, but only ever scratches the surface of what this character, and this concept, are capable of. The rest of this superhero origin story simply feels like a dull, unfulfilling waste of time, one that’s clearly starved for the desire to tie in with Harbinger, something that Bloodshot can obviously never do at this point. Like its eponymous character, Bloodshot reaches its audience dead-on-arrival, and there simply aren’t enough storytelling nanites to give it the franchise life it genuinely deserves.
- Very cool premise
- Visual suite is surprisingly polished
- Climactic action scene is fun
- Shallow characters, with no real connection to the Valiant Universe
- Dull, predictable storyline that's entirely spoiled in the trailers
- Frequently incomprehensible, sloppy direction