Friday, March 13, 2020

Movies by the Numbers: "Bloodshot" (2020)

Are you ready for Vin Diesel's latest action movie experience?  Here's a trailer for you, and my thoughts will follow:


Bloodshot is a movie starring Vin Diesel and is based on a '90s Valiant comic.  It's so bad that it stars Vin Diesel and is based on a '90s Valiant comic.

I'll explain, but first, bear with me...

They catch your eye and your hand instinctively reaches out for them.  You lift the cookie to your mouth, preparing, anticipating that first bite.  In a heartbeat, you will savour the delicious chocolate chips.

But you won't.  For the cookie in your hand isn't chocolate chip at all, but raisin.

What does this have to do with anything?  Simply put: Valiant is the raisins of the comic-book world.

Growing up in the '90s, super-powered comic heroes lived on my TV screen thanks to spectacular, amazing, incredible cartoons such as X-Men, Spider-Man, Batman (especially the cyberpunk Beyond), and so on, but comic books themselves were a privilege.  My brothers and I would buy bagged issues (no, not like X-Cutioner's Song), literal mixed bags of three issues each, with only one visible through the front of the bag.  And even if there was an issue of Iron Man or Hulk in the front, well, you could bet the other two weren't.

It wasn't long before my brothers and I had a shoe box of crappy Valiant issues, needlessly-edgy '90s comics filled with 'tude, plenty of blood, and frequently poor-man's versions of familiar characters and/or teams.  In grade school, I remember trying to come up with my own "His Superpower Is Guns" character in that '90s style, with a suitably violent and edgy name.  I used a word I'd recently learned after having my finger stuck in a window: Bloodshot.  Luckily, when I'd learned someone with the creativity of a schoolboy had already used that name on a character that looked even lamer than what I'd devised, I dropped the entire thing.

And that brings us to the year 2020.  The capeshit oversaturation of entertainment media knows no bounds, and Sony's latest transparent cashgrab is, for whatever reason, an attempt to establish some kind of "Valiant Cinematic Universe."  Hell, what's next?  Malibu Comics?  Topps?  (I'd be okay with Amalgam.)

Their first (and should we all be so lucky, final) attempt is Bloodshot, which stars Vin Diesel as the titular character, an American soldier who is killed in action, only to be resurrected as an amnesiac super-soldier with nanomachines in his veins, allowing for superhuman strength and regeneration.  (What's a Wolverine?)  Brought back to life by a brilliant roboticist played by Guy Pearce and his RST Corporation, Vin finds himself welcomed by a group of wounded soldiers, all of whom are now enhanced cyborgs.

He finds camaraderie among the RST cyborgs, and eventually, bits and pieces of his memory.  He remembers his wife... and the guy who killed her.  Driven by revenge, he sets out to take down his wife's murderer.  But his memories are artificial, RST has been using him to kill people, and what, if anything, in his new cybernetically-augmented memory-altered world is real?

Yep.  It's that generic.  As if someone ripped elements out of RoboCop with some Wolverine thrown in, but nowhere near as good as either.

The first scene sets the tone for much of the rest of the movie.  As the opening logos fade in, tacticool military radio jargon is heard, and leads into a scene of modern-military American soldier Vin Diesel single-handedly breaching and clearing an entire building of insurgents, throwing flashbangs in slow-motion and sloppily performing a tac-reload, dropping the empty mag on the ground.  Is this an adaptation of a '90s superhero comic or a Call of Dudebros game?

Naturally, the scene is filled with excessive amounts of shaky-cam and fast cutting, making it impossible to really tell just what the hell is going on or to focus on the action at all.  Just about all of the action scenes fall victim to an overuse of shaky-cam and fast cutting.  You could argue that such overused techniques create an atmosphere of frantic chaos in battle.  I don't.  All it creates is the impression that someone could not be bothered to do tracking shots or choreograph fight scenes.  John Wick exists, and if you are going to lift elements from other works, consider stealing some technical elements from Keanu's beautifully filmed action flicks.

The only actors I recognize here are Vin Diesel as our titular hero, and Guy Pearce as the head of RST, himself having a cybernetic arm.  I'm guessing that casting Guy Pearce in a movie about an amnesiac trying to avenge his wife's murder has to be intentional.  (Don't worry -- Bloodshot isn't told out of order with desaturated scenes.)  Everyone's performance is just as serviceable as it needs to be for the movie's characters and tone.  I particularly enjoyed Vin's brash foil, the dude with bionic legs and an exosuit akin to something out of The Surge.  And, of course, the badass athletic lady in consistently tight outfits.  I got a Michelle Rodriguez vibe from her later in the movie -- and not just because Vin was in it.  (The movie, I mean, not the lady.)

Say what you will about Vin Diesel, but the man really gets the concept of Stupid Action Movies.  He's built a career out of getting Stupid Action Movies.   Make no mistake, Bloodshot desperately wants to be nothing more than a stupid action movie filled with clich├ęs.  (Make a drinking game out of "Predict The Next Line of Dialogue" and YOU will wake up in the RST headquarters with a cybernetic liver.)  Yet it can't find its tone.  On one hand, it's extremely stupid, the writing is awful, and it's an excuse for Vin to do his Stupid Action Movie shit.

But on the other hand, the pressure from the studio is palpable.  The seriousness of the subject matter.  The generic "epic" music.  How straight everyone seems to play it.  It feels like a tug-of-war between two parties: those providing the big budget who want to sell this serious action story about a wronged soldier, and milk this for all it's worth (and then make more Valiant flicks); and those writing and starring in it who just want to make a self-aware action/comedy, leaning into and embracing the stupidity.

The tone is all over the place.  You have a story about revenge, duty, and the meaning of freedom, yet it's told through cybernetically-augmented Vin Diesel punching dudes and blowing crap up.  There's an audience-stand-in brown I.T. guy who's one of the few normal people caught up in this crazy world of cyborg warriors, yet he's the comic relief as well as butt of the joke.  (I particularly enjoyed Guy Pearce's gag about him liking cricket more than tennis.)

We're supposed to want to cheer for Vin, hoping he can break free and take his life back, yet one of the meters on a screen showing his vitals reads REVENGE: 100%.  Now I've played enough Street Fighter IV to be no stranger to Revenge Meters, but when a movie deliberately has a close-up of a screen so the audience can see the "REVENGE" value fill up (accompanied by actors' dialogue confirming the filling of the REVENGE meter), one thing is clear.  It cannot be taken seriously.  And that's just the thing: Bloodshot can't decide if it wants to take itself seriously or be over-the-top stupid, and doesn't fully commit enough to either to have any hope of working.  It can't decide if it wants to be Fast 4 or Furious 7.  I'm glad it's not as self-indulgent with its attempts at humour as Hobbs & Shaw, but the humour feels at odds with the self-serious grit, and neither shine through.

If, for whatever reason, you have convinced yourself that you have any kind of affinity for the source material, rest assured that the filmmakers don't.  Other than the basic premise and some character names, there really isn't much here that seems to be lifted from the pages of the Valiant comic.  (I tried to keep my eyes peeled for stuff like a H.A.R.D. Corps logo, schematics of the X-O Manowar armour, or the name of the Eternal Warrior on a computer screen.  I caught nothing.)  In fact, it really feels as though the '90s comic book 'tude has been replaced with contemporary techno-futurism and Hollywood generica, further cementing the overall impression that this movie's mere existence is a studio's attempt at just churning out a product to get a payday rather than a creator's labour of love.  There are certain points in the flick where Vin's skin turns white, his eyes red-on-black, and the red glow inside his chest resembles the red circle on the comic-book character.  That's about as much accuracy to the comic as you can expect.

Would it have been better if the Bloodshot movie kept the hyper-violent super-bloody Edge & 'Tude of the '90s Valiant comic it ostensibly brings to the big screen?  Well, if it did, at least then it'd feel like the source material whose name it bears, rather than a completely generic contemporary big-budget blockbuster-chasing Hollywood action flick with cyber-futuristic techno-gimmickry leaking from its pores.  It takes itself too seriously to be a Vin-style Stupid Action Movie, and it's too stupid and generic to stand out as a smart (or even clever) action-themed revenge movie -- but in a post-John Wick world, that is a big request.

Bland writing, overuse of shaky-cam and CGI, characters that aren't particularly exciting or endearing -- nothing here is special, and other than a setpiece battle in a blocked tunnel, nothing is really done that well.  Sure, you could gather your friends at home whenever this comes out and apply the Fast & Furious Drinking Game rules to it for a gag (many vehicles explode, at least one car ends up on its roof, the word "family" appears at least once...), but you could do that for any of Vin's movies, and if you did that with Fast Five or xXx, you'd get to watch a better movie, too (however guilty the pleasure might be).

For a movie that uses memories as a crucial story element, Vin Diesel's Bloodshot sure is completely forgettable.


Thursday, March 5, 2020

Numbers Requesting Backup

Greetings, A25U folks!  Your old pal Numbers here, unfortunately in a bit of a bind.  I've fallen upon some hard times and an unexpected expense reared its ugly head -- I'm out of work for the time being and my damn glasses broke.

If you want to help, please consider checking out the GoFundMe page I set up, or you can use the comic blog's old PayPay donation page if it's better for you.  You can also keep in touch on the comic's facebook page, if you'd like.

Thanks for all the help, support, and friendship you guys have shown me over the years.  I don't want to ask you for anything more than that, but regrettably, I have to this time.

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