From August 2017-January 2020, Keith R.A. DeCandido took a look at every live-action movie based on a superhero comic in the weekly “4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch.” He caught up to real time, as it were, with Joker in January, but now that we’re at the halfway mark of 2020, Keith will take a gander at this year’s releases to date (Bloodshot today, Birds of Prey next week), as well as one movie he missed the first time through, 2000’s Faust: Love of the Damned.
Jim Shooter is one of the most polarizing figures in comics. Getting his start at the tender age of thirteen writing for Legion of Superheroes in 1966, he eventually worked his way up to becoming editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics in 1978. After he was fired by Marvel in 1987, he formed Valiant Comics.
Shooter’s tenure at Marvel was certainly eventful. On the one hand, he did a great deal to get the comics out on time with a greatly reduced need for reprint fill-in issues, and some of what remain definitive runs on certain characters occurred during his regime (the Chris Claremont/John Byrne Uncanny X-Men, Frank Miller’s Daredevil, both Roger Stern and J.M. DeMatteis’s runs on Captain America, Walt Simonson’s Thor, Shooter himself and then Roger Stern on Avengers, the Spider-Man titles being written by Stern, DeMatties, and Bill Mantlo, etc.). On the other hand, he had a very particular way of doing things that alienated a lot of writers—several big-name creators moved to DC because they couldn’t work with Shooter, and Shooter was the one who forced a last-minute change to the Dark Phoenix saga in Uncanny X-Men to kill Jean Grey (who would later be brought back from the dead anyhow)—and many of his pet projects (the “New Universe,” e.g.) failed rather badly.
Valiant Comics launched under Shooter’s tutelage in 1991 with a mix of original and licensed comics, but he left the company in 1992 over creative differences. Unfortunately, that was the start of a long series of starts and stops for Valiant. The company was bought by Acclaim Entertainment in 1994, and relaunched as Acclaim Comics, then Acclaim went bankrupt in 2004. A group of entrepreneurs bought the rights to Valiant’s original comics, and relaunched Valiant in 2012. The company was purchased by DMG Entertainment in 2018.
One of Valiant’s most popular original comics was Bloodshot. Created by Kevin VanHook, Don Perlin, and Bob Layton, Bloodshot was originally a mob contract killer named Angelo Mortalli, who was killed and then revived by Project Rising Spirit with nanites in his blood that allow him to regenerate and change his shape. Mortalli has no memory of his past life, and a big part of his storylines is him trying to find out who he really is after PRS wiped his memory.
The character has been rebooted numerous times, both as Mortalli and as a Marine named Ray Garrison—sometimes both. The character was optioned for a feature film in 2012 alongside another Valiant title Harbinger. Originally Jared Leto was to play Bloodshot (the film used the Garrison version of the character) with Michael Sheen playing Dr. Emil Harting, the head of Rising Spirit Tech, the movie version of PRS. Both actors had to bow out, replaced respectively by Vin Diesel (last seen in this rewatch as the voice of Groot in four Marvel Cinematic Universe films) and Guy Pearce (last seen in this rewatch as the bad guy in Iron Man 3).
The timing of the movie’s release was abysmal, as it came out on March 13, 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was forcing movie theatres around the world to close. It was released digitally on the 24th of that month to try to make up for the inability to see the movie in theatres.
“This guy just won’t fucking die”
Written by Jeff Wadlow and Eric Heisserer
Directed by David S.F. Wilson
Produced by Neal H. Moritz, Toby Jaffe, Dinesh Shamdasani, Vin Diesel
Original release date: March 13, 2020
A Marine named Ray Garrison is part of a team that has been sent to free a hostage in Mombasa. Garrison goes in against orders, kills the kidnapper, and frees the hostage. Afterward, he takes leave in Italy with his wife Gina. The kidnapper’s boss kidnaps both of them, and—while dancing and playing “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads—asks Garrison who gave up the location of the kidnapper. Garrison has no idea—he was never provided with that information, he just went where he was told. The bad guy tries to change his mind by killing Gina. When Garrison still says he has no idea, the bad guy shoots him, too.
Garrison then somehow wakes up in a lab. He’s told by Dr. Emil Harting, the head of Rising Spirit Tech, that his body was donated to RST after he was killed. They’ve replaced his blood with nanites, which allow him to regenerate, and also enable him to interface with a lot of electronic equipment and such. He also meets three others who underwent a similar procedure: KT, Jimmy Dalton, and Marcus Tibbs, all of whom also have enhancements.
After getting memory flashes of Gina’s death, Garrison is able to break into RST’s computers and track down the face in those flashes. He traces him to Budapest and kills him. KT, Dalton, and Tibbs go after him and bring him home—at which point we find out that all of Garrison’s memories from the beginning of the film were artificially placed there by RST. Each time they pretend to awaken him for the first time, giving him memories of his “final mission,” but each time the face of the guy who kills Gina and him is different. Each time he “surprises” everyone by “breaking out” and heading off to kill the guy who killed his wife. Turns out, they’re all Harting’s former business partners, whom he wants eliminated.
Harting sends Garrison after the final ex-partner, Nick Baris, but Baris has hired one of the best computer nerds in the world, Wilfred Wigans, to build an EMP for him. While Garrison does succeed in killing Baris, Wigans’s EMP still works and takes out Garrison’s nanites. While they do reboot and start working again, Garrison now knows that his brain has been messed with.
The first thing Garrison does is track down Gina, who’s actually alive—but also broke up with him five years ago and has a family of her own now. Dalton and Tibbs find and subdue Garrison and bring him back to RST, but KT has grown disillusioned with RST and teams up with Wigans to break Garrison out. Garrison fights both Tibbs and Dalton and kills them both, then does the same to Harting, using his nanites to manipulate a grenade.
Garrison, KT, and Wigans go off on their own, with RST having been destroyed.
“You don’t need a history to have a future”
The basic story of Bloodshot could have been an interesting movie. There’s a lot of narrative goodness to be mined from the mindfuck of the false memories and the corporate manipulation of a talented military trooper. We’ve seen this sort of thing done well in places like Total Recall and Inception.
It’s not done well here. It’s barely done at all here. I mean, Vin Diesel can’t even manage to bring the same existential confusion to the role of Garrison that Arnold Schwarzenegger did as Douglas Quaid, and when you’re being out-acted by Ah-nold, things have gone horribly wrong.
Bits of the movie are promising, but they peter out. In particular I love the fact that the idiotic clichés of the early part of the film—the maverick Marine who disobeys orders but gets the job done anyhow, the bad guy who dances to old Talking Heads songs, Gina being fridged—are all fake. They’re clichés because it’s a scenario dreamed up by a nerd (Eric, who is a big honkin’ geek stereotype as played by Siddarth Dhanajay). But even that particular revelation doesn’t really land.
There are no characters in this movie, only caricatures. Harting is The Noble CEO Who Turns Out To Be A Piece Of Shit, KT is The Woman Who’s Tired Of Working For The Bastard And Betrays Him For Our Hero, Eric is The Nerd, Wigans is The Bigger Nerd Who’s Also A Spectacular Smartass (the movie is only really watchable when Lamorne Morris is onscreen as Wigans, because he brings tremendous verve to the role, but it, too, is a big honkin’ stereotype), Dalton and Tibbs are The Hench-Thugs, and Garrison is The Tough Guy Hero.
One reason why the revelation that Garrison’s entire background is a lie concocted by Eric is such a dud is because said revelation changes absolutely nothing. Diesel’s one-note Garrison is the same guy throughout the entire movie. It’s hard to get too arsed about a character’s crisis of identity when it does nothing to change anything about that identity in the least.
I was really disappointed that they went with the Garrison version of Bloodshot, as the Mortalli version had more potential. Heck, they could have had fun with both, as the comics did at one point, by having him not sure if he’s really Ray Garrison or Angelo Mortalli.
It would’ve been nice if they got a better lead. Diesel’s range goes all the way from A to B, and he never actually makes it to B in this movie. It doesn’t help that he has the same blank expression on his face throughout. (It’s perhaps telling that his best role is a voice-only part. It’s equally telling that he’s able to do more acting by saying the same three words over and over again in the MCU than he manages in Bloodshot.)
Next week, we’ll take a look at the latest offering from the DCEU, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn).
Keith R.A. DeCandido is friends with a lot of people who worked at Valiant/Acclaim over the years, and he’s pretty sure that none of them had anything to do with this movie, thank goodness.