Thankfully, you can't tell from the onscreen evidence, but Bloodshot was conceived as the first film in  a Valiant Comics shared cinematic universe. Ah, Valiant Comics! Just the name brings me back to the '90s, when Bloodshot was introduced the world, and the idea of a nanite-infused supersoldier seemed like a cool sci-fi concept and not a humiliatingly stale sci-fi cliché. The film, perhaps to its credit, resolutely follows suit: while the CGI-driven action sequences plants this firmly in a later generation of superhero films, every other thing about Bloodshot feels like the kind of examples of that form we got back in that heady decade before X-Men proved you could actually make a non-Batman comic book adaptation work. The days when everybody kept trying these odd little half-measures like Steel and Spawn and even the celebrated Blade, movies that take B- or C-list characters and place them into films with enough of a foundation in recognisable genres or marketing niches that you could pretty easily sell them without making any reference their four-color origins at all.

It's not just that Bloodshot is based on a character who has very little name recognition outside of the comics-reading faithful; everything about this feels stuck in the '90s, and virtually never to its credit. There's the nanite thing, for one, and everything attached to it: this is a movie that is very eager to indulge in technobabble and sci-fi exposition to a degree that felt just simply normal when The X-Files and multiple Star Treks were on television every week, and feels mildly unnerving all these years later. The hell of it is, it's not even just setting up the scenario: one of the greatest peculiarities of Jeff Wadlow and Eric Heisserer's screnplay is that it somehow grows more invested in this kind of talky, unapologetically nerdy stuff as it goes along. This is part of the film's overall trend of growing much, much worse in its second half compared to a none-too-great first half.

Not that the first half is free of sins. Indeed, the film's worst scene, and a strong candidate for the worst scene in any film of any of the curtailed 2020 movie year thus far, comes in that first half, very near to the beginning. Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel), a burly he-man even by the standards of the U.S. Marines, has just returned to his wife Gina (Tallulah Riley) after his latest success at some highly dangerous operation; they are both kidnapped by Martin Axe (Toby Kebbell), who has been terribly inconvenienced by that same operation, and tries to get information out of Ray by threatening Gina's life. He does this by first putting on Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer", and then doing a little mad dance that could not possibly be more of a rip-off of the "Stuck in the Middle" scene from Reservoir Dogs (another way it feels stalled in the '90s!). And if this were not obnoxious enough, the sound editing manages to make things just that little bit worse by tweaking the song to sound like it exists outside of the scene for a minute, after it started out feeling like it was actually coming out of the player we see. Later on, we'll find that this is meant to be a grating, witless cliché, but that does not make it less of any of those things.

Axe kills Gina, of course, and then he kills Ray, and sadly, this does not mean that we can leave, content that while Bloodshot was awful, at least it was short. Instead, Ray wakes up in a super-sciencey medical lab, where Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce, whose accent work is a mesmerising attempt to do something flat and all-American by going on a tour of South Africa, Ireland, and Canada, but not Pearce's home of Australia) explains that he has had all of his blood replaced with nanite fluid. This means that Ray is now super-strong, mostly indestructible (he can even take a bullet to the face, and the nanites patch him back up), and unfortunately for him, amnesiac. But as he meets the colorful eccentrics who populate Harting's lab, all of them fellow cyborgs of some sort or another (and oh my word, if ever there was a population of unendurably wacky side characters for whom the words "colorful" and "eccentric" were both exactly correct and deeply insufficient, it's this film's  nightmarish supporting cast - Lamorne Morris as a zany programmer is the worst of it, so God damn the movie for setting him up as one of the people who'll be back in the sequel), convenient triggers start to wake his memories back up, giving him just enough to go on a revenge-hungry spree against Axe's organisation.

So far, so adequate - the first big action setpiece is even actually good, with first-time director David S.F. Wilson and cinematographer Jacques Jouffret soaking the film in cherry-red lighting that helps to sell the CG manipulations of Diesel's body. It has an unabashedly cheesy generic sensibility, with the sleek white surfaces of the medical lab as trite as staging a car-based action scene in an underpass. The film is also bizarrely proud of its extremely straightforward sci-fi concept, taking far too much time to explain it (it even assumes that we need to be eased into the word "nanites"), but it always helps to remember that Diesel is a big ol' nerd, and this is a big ol' nerd's movie.

The problem is that the film has a swerve lined up for us - a swerve that it seems to regard as a secret, even though it's kind of impossible to imagine the film working without something similar, and it was always entirely spoiled in the film's ad campaign (if you've seen the trailer, you have seen virtually everything about the plot other than which particular members of Hart's lab are going to switch loyalties, and even that's not remotely hard to guess). But I'll pretend to treat it like a spoiler anyway. The problem is that the mildly interesting and fairly dumb movie prior to this point instantaneously becomes dull as hell and extravagantly dumb; it's also right at this point that the side characters start to really amp up how loud and tacky they can be. And it's also here where the plot just starts spinning its wheels until it can finally spend the last 20 minutes moving characters forward and getting Ray set up for his spin-offs and sequels that will probably never come. But who knows? The film somehow became one of the biggest hits of the Great Streaming Experiment of the Coronavirus Quarantine, so maybe this has bought the Valiant Universe a second life. Certainly, trying to figure out the film's position in the cinematic financial ecosystem is the only interesting thing we can do with it: everything else about Bloodshot is a copy of a rip-off of something that was already throughly strip-mined over two decades ago. If you're unbelievably desperate for a sci-fi action movie that's also a Vin Diesel vehicle, I guess it delivers, but I cannot imagine any other needs that this fulfills. And even then, it's not even the best example of that particular intersection.