18 June 2020

First Impressions: Bloodshot

Hell yeah I saw Bloodshot (2020). In the Age of COVID-19 the Drive-In movie theater is king! I haven't been to a drive-in in nearly 25 years. It's not that great, I sit in my car all the time. But it was fun to mix things up and find a way...to survive.

"Die, Robot Legs!"
 features Vin Diesel playing himself in a clear vanity project that also somehow exists as a strong contender for the perfect Vin Diesel vehicle. If you actually want to watch this thing, I suggest just watching it - the premise is actually pretty clever and the trailer completely gives away every card it has. It was very disappointing. In fact, stop reading this review and watch it, because otherwise it'll be super ruined for you. Or not, whatever, it's not like The Sixth Sense (1999) or something.

The movie opens with Vin Diesel in some anonymous war torn country, who fights his way to the big bad villain, who kills his boo and then Diesel himself. He wakes up as part of some scientific experiment, infused with nano-technology that can heal any wound instantly as well as giving him super strength and complete Internet access! Diesel sneaks out and seeks revenge, an unstoppable killing machine who decimates the villain and secures vengeance.

At this point we're like 40 minutes in, so more shit has to happen, right? Well, as it turns out, Diesel is totally being Memento'd by (ironically) Guy Pierce. Guy Pearce fabricates memories of the killing in Diesel's programmable corpse and then points him in the direction of whoever he wants killed. The movie actually plays with a lot of tropes this way. His girlfriend, at first seeming like an egregious example of a fridge girl is actually completely fine, has moved on, has a new husband and child, and hasn't actually seen Diesel in five years. His disobeying orders and striking out on his own is all a farce designed exactly as Guy Pearce wants it. All his rage and catharsis is artificial bullshit. It's actually kind of amazing.

You wonder if Diesel was aware of any of this. He eventually becomes sort of a side character in his own story. He's clearly a tool for every other character, a bull pointed in whatever direction they want to destroy. He ghosts is knocked out constantly. Is it some commentary on these unstoppable superheroes or action heroes who feel so justified in their righteous revenge? It's all a ploy. I'm not sure if the movie is that smart, because yes, there are quite a few problems with this, perhaps undercut the most because Diesel's performance and dedication to the "Hero's Journey" is incredibly sincere.

You didn't always get that with Diesel. Despite appearing like a mindless violent beefcake, I always liked when he slowed things down like showed how scared he is at the end of xXx (2003) or voicing The Iron Giant (1999). I think he's trying too hard to prove himself these days and trying desperately to show how tough he is after The Rock called him out for being soft. Anyway, even though this was the perfect movie to show some real growth, he bungles it by being the most insane headstrong unstoppable killer ever.

Part of that obviously works in the film's favor. Guy Pearce even comments constantly about how driven Diesel is, and how he just thinks he's in a video game. There is a lot of that. Diesel basically completes mission after mission and works his way up to the final boss. A lot of this is meta, but it is sincere enough to work, at least in some ironic sense. As you can tell, this movie actually really tripped me up. It's not obvious with its meta-commentary like The LEGO Movie (2014) or something, but there's a lot there. For a bit it tries to comment but also eat its own cake, and when it slides too much in that direction, it fails.

Now for all the crap that makes no sense. Upon thinking about the premise at all, why did Guy Pearce have to do any of this? He has the nano-technology to create an unstoppable killing machine. Why does he need to trick Vin Diesel into killing all these people? Why doesn't he just hire someone and then make them to it? This idea is less crazy when you realize that he also has a team of three technologically advanced cyborg killers working for him that actually just do that.

One, in particular, is some guy with robot legs. Robot Legs hates Vin Diesel for absolutely no reason. He absolutely haaaaates Diesel. Who the hell knows why. The best I could guess is that they invest all this energy into making him a super-healing unstoppable killer, when he would probably just do it for free. Maybe it's the fact that one girl got a super breathing apparatus (by the way, I'm convinced this movie doesn't understand how lungs work), and another blind soldier got all these drone cameras to control. Robot Legs just got the ability to parkour. He doesn't actually have a purpose in this film outside of plot, and by that I mean within his own organization.

There's also not really a major world-ending plot or anything. Guy Pearce is just kind of a jerk. Diesel's arc boils down to getting revenge on someone who brainwashed him into thinking he needs to get revenge on that person's enemies. There's nothing actually heroic about anything. That presents another level of meta-irony, which again, Diesel seems to play with sincerity. It works when you're reading the movie as this basic parody of action films, but there really are too many slow motion, music swelling scenes of pure heroism to defend this stance.

So, Diesel is unstoppable, can heal from any injury, and hack into the top government satellites anywhere in the world, but he can overheat or something? It's never quite clear. His chest gets red and eyes get bloodshot (the only way this title makes sense I guess?), which means he's close to danger! But nothing really happens. He overclocks at one point and then just kind of wakes up in the next scene. It's not all that dramatic. Again, is this a commentary on bulletproof, deathproof action heroes? Or just bad writing? I've put way too much thought into Bloodshot over the past few weeks.

On that note, since the ostensible love interest gets all worried when he overclocks, we should talk about the girl in the movie, because it's really weird. Diesel has his wife (or girlfriend?) memories that drive all his revenge, but when that's undercut it seems like he's going to hook up with the Breathing Hole Girl. She has some implant on her chest that lets her breathe in poison gas or underwater. Maybe it's just how she's presented - as a total sex ball honeypot, but it seems like she's going to help Diesel heal from the pain of losing his girlfriend-wife. But that never happens, and they end platonically.

Not to seem like I'm beating a dead Charger, but AGAIN - is this on purpose? Subverting our expectations that the action hero hooks up with the sultry breath hole vixen? I don't know what's going on. It's maybe progressive, she has her own dynamic and agency and is only kidnapped once. It sort of skirts problematic treatment, but the movie seems reluctant that they hook up while presenting them as totally hot for each other.

Lastly we have the black friend, Lamorne Morris who does a pretty good job as the renegade hacker person who reboots the Diesel into serving justice. He inexplicably speaks in a thick English accent, which I could only think of Don Cheadle in Ocean's 11 (2001) as precedent? Like, why is this a thing? I just don't know what's going on this film.

In the end I actually dug Bloodshot a lot. It's certifiably dumb, but a pretty fun time that pokes holes in action tropes, purposeful or not. I think it was on purpose, but it's not witty enough to take advantage of them, and Diesel, to his credit, is so sincere in his performance that it simultaneously enforces and undercuts the core theme. Just watch this movie, it's pretty wild.

lamorne morris accent

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