Vin Diesel stars in an adaptation of a Valiant Comics superhero, and it deserves more credit.
Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) is a US Marine who successfully rescued a hostage from terrorists in Mombasa. He goes to Italy with his wife, Gina (Talulah Riley), where they both are abducted by terrorist Martin Axe (Toby Kebbell). Axe asks Ray who leaked the location of the Mombasa cell, but since Ray doesn’t know, Axe kills Gina. Ray vows to kill Axe, so Axe executes him as well.
Ray is resurrected by the company Rising Spirit Tech (RST), a company that develops cybernetic enhancements for people, mostly soldiers. Ray’s blood has been largely filled with a billion nanites, which repaired his dead tissue, effectively bringing him back from the dead. Additionally, any injury to him is fixed by the nanites, as long as they have power. The head of RST, Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce), informs Ray that he is the first successfully resurrected person. Harting introduces Ray to other people at RST who were cybernetically revived: KT (Eiza Gonzales) who breathes through an artificial respirator, Dalton (Sam Heugen) who has artificial legs, and Tibbs (Alex Hernandez) who has cybernetic eyes. Ray realizes that, while his general memory is intact, he cannot remember any details of his life. However, he starts to have flashes of Axe and Gina and, together with a hacker named Wigans (Lamorne Morris), finds out that there may be more to his death than it seems.
This movie got absolutely trashed by critics, so I had not planned on watching it (particularly if I had to pay $12). However, someone advised me that there was actual merit to the movie, so I gave it a shot and I was not disappointed.
The thing that most of the critics complained about is that this movie is largely filled with “generic” superhero/supersoldier tropes and that’s completely fair. The first act of this movie is absolutely a cliche from the dialogue to the characters to the “discovering your powers” scene. It feels like they copied and pasted it from a half-dozen other films, except that it’s got Vin Diesel in the lead. Now, in fairness, Vin Diesel does give a pretty good performance, particularly watching his sly smile when he realizes that the nanites have given him enhanced strength, but it is still nothing new.
However, believe me when I say that the movie does do a decent job of justifying WHY the movie feels so generic at that point. The first act of this movie is intentionally made up of action and superhero film cliches because it sets up for the second act. Basically, once Wigans gets on-screen, the movie starts to progress. While you’re waiting, though, there are a number of solid, albeit a little-too-rapidly-cut, action sequences, and the scenes of Diesel fully embracing his new invincibility are pretty awesome to watch. If you aren’t happy with the ultimate justification, you probably won’t be happy with the movie, but it let me forgive it a bit.
The performances are all solid, although Diesel, Pearce, and Morris are the standouts. The fight scenes get progressively more creative as the film goes along and some of them are really entertaining. The visual effects of the nanites looked pretty great to me, too. Mostly, the movie has a lot of implications that are far heavier than just what’s presented on-screen. The film does handhold some of the reveals a little too much, wasting screen time with duplicated explanations, but they’re still mostly done well.
I do think the backlash against this film is a positive, in some ways. The reason people are against this movie now, though it would have been a revelation in 2005, is because superhero films have just gotten so much better over the last decade. We keep raising the bar, so this film pales in comparison to some of the other fare that has come out.
Overall, I liked this movie. There are a lot of better films to be sure, but I liked Vin Diesel’s characterization and I do hope this is the start of a Valiant Comics shared universe. Given the box office numbers (which were likely tanked by Coronavirus), that may not happen, but it would have been interesting. You may want to wait until this is at Redbox, but give it a try.
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