Bloodshot – A complex, complicated and emotional Superhero

A superhero not just trying to get the bad guys, but trying to figure out if he can trust what’s in his own mind? That’s heavy stuff – and that was precisely the draw for Vin Diesel to Bloodshot, directed by David S. F. Wilson, who was born and raised in Cape Town.

Wilson says that taking on the new challenge of directing a feature film pushed him out of his comfort zone – which is just where he likes it. “I was excited, mixed with a lot of terror over what I would discover about myself – but that is the most exciting part for me,” he says. “I love what I have been doing for the last 15 years, but this is an adventure I wouldn’t pass up for the world. Ultimately, directing is about knowing your story inside out – and I know how to do that.”

Vin Diesel with director David S. F. Wilson during the filming of Bloodshot

After creating unforgettable big-screen characters in such movies as the Fast and Furious series, xXx, and The Chronicles of Riddick, among many others – not to mention his vocal turns in The Iron Giant and Guardians of the Galaxy – Diesel was ready to sink his teeth into his first on-screen superhero role, and with Bloodshot, Diesel was drawn to the opportunity to create a character just as memorable.

Not to mention that bringing to life the most popular character in Valiant Comics’ lineup provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  With a wide readership of over 81 million comics sold, the Valiant books possess a diverse array of characters encompassing a wide variety of genres, tones, and demographic groups. Famed for presenting superheroes who are ordinary people in extraordinary situations, these heroes are complex characters that reflect contemporary society, politics, and diversity of the modern world. 

In that way, Diesel says that Bloodshot is unique because while his powers are striking and fun to watch, it’s what’s going on inside that counts. “His mind has been controlled,” says the actor-producer. “He’s a badass soldier with unique abilities due to the nanites in his blood, but what’s fascinating about the character is that he’s motivated by something we’ve all been motivated by – the love he can’t forget.  And what’s tragic about the character is how that love is manipulated into betrayal.”

“What makes Bloodshot different than any other superhero is he’s more complex, more complicated, more emotional,” says producer Neal H. Moritz, who previously teamed with Diesel on the Fast and Furious series and the xXx franchise.

“For so much of the journey, he’s not sure if he’s doing good or if he’s doing bad – there’s incredible internal conflict in his character. And Vin is the perfect person to play that, because Vin is internal – he agonizes over every decision about what makes a character great. So much of what makes him such a good actor and such a great action hero is organic to the Bloodshot character.”

For Diesel, a superhero exhibiting a real Achilles’ heel feels very grounded – and the actor says that the character’s heroic side is just as grounded. “If you ask guys in the military who their favorite comic book character is, it’s Bloodshot,” he notes. “Ray’s core values are the core values of anyone that’s ever served.”

Because of that, Diesel says, the audience feels a deep empathy for the character that is completely unique. “I’ve never seen a character like this – someone who can be focused exclusively on the mission, but you in the audience are feeling for him, because you know that the company is exploiting him. His motives are good, so you just want to see him get what he wants.”

“That feeling of being manipulated – the injustice of it – is something that maybe we can all relate to, Diesel says. “I feel that anyone can identify with feeling manipulated,” he says. “As we watch the news in our daily lives there are so many moments that we’re feeling force fed or being manipulated. I like the idea of a hero with powers whose real battle is against that.”

For director David S. F. Wilson, the character – a superhero augmented and evolved through technology and science – was also a chance to explore the intersection of technology with our daily lives.

“Bloodshot is certainly a superhero, but his powers come from technology,” he notes. “In that way, it’s very grounded; we are all affected by – even controlled by – the tech around us. Or, I should say, technology gives us an illusion of control over our lives – while actually, technology is rampant and controls our lives.

Wilson also points out that everything Bloodshot experiences might not be all that far off from reality – for better or worse. “Obviously we’re already seeing people with advanced prosthetics,” he says. “Right now, those prosthetics are still inferior to human limbs – but the day will come when they’re superior. You’ll be able to buy strength. What’s more terrifying is when you can buy intelligence, because we’ll be defined by what we can afford. There’s a term for it – ‘transhumanism’ – where we’re able to alter ourselves beyond the physical and neurological limits we’re born with. And those are some of the questions of the film.”

These were all ideas that were explored in the original Valiant “Bloodshot” comic books. At the height of the comic book craze in the 90s, “Bloodshot” was a huge seller and highly collectible. “On the day ‘Superman’ died, ‘Bloodshot’ #1 was introduced to the world,” says producer Dinesh Shamdasani, former CEO of Valiant Comics. “There were queues all over the comic book stores worldwide. Bloodshot resonated because he represented a new type of humanity in comic book storytelling; instead of somebody being extraordinary before he became a superhero, or the greatest solider who ever lived, Bloodshot is just your everyday average soldier who only becomes extraordinary through the events of the comic books – he’s a regular person in an extraordinary situation.”

The character originated when Bob Layton, who co-created the character for the Valiant comic books with Kevin VanHook, read a magazine article about nanites – machines measured in nanometers, millionths of millimeters. “I was fascinated,” he says. “What if you created a modern-day Frankenstein, but you used nanites to resurrect the fellow?” 

The possibilities for such a character seemed promising, because the scientific grounding of the characters’ powers would land him squarely in the real world. “We made a very concerted effort to make our characters standout from the pack,” says Layton. “We wanted to write stories about people that we could relate to, people that we cared about. This guy had no idea what kind of man he was before he was resurrected, and the discovery is sometimes jarring when he finds out. Bloodshot is a person with a moral compass, with values.”

In that way, Bloodshot’s true mission has always been trying to put away his past and figure out what kind of man he’s going to be. “Bloodshot is not a traditional superhero-vs.-villain story,” says VanHook.

Adapting The Valiant Comic Book

In adapting the comic, producer Toby Jaffe says that the producers sought to capture that. “I saw an opportunity to make something fresh for the audience,” he says. “This movie is about a solider on an emotional journey to find out what happened to him, and it becomes a movie about choice: is he a good guy or a bad guy? Who does he choose to be?”

The screenplay was crafted by Jeff Wadlow and Eric Heisserer, and the story is by Jeff Wadlow.

Jeff Wadlow’s most recently directed Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island, which followed on his first collaboration with producer Jason Blum, Universal’s original theatrical feature Truth or Dare, which grossed approximately $100 million in theaters from a budget of just $3.5 million. Before that, he wrote and directed True Memoirs of an International Assassin, a film that was at the forefront of Netflix’s expansion into original features. His preceding writing/directing effort, Kick Ass 2, was named one of the ten best films of the year by Quentin Tarantino, who stated it demonstrated a “real auteur approach.”

Jeff Wadlow

A graduate of Dartmouth College, Wadlow attended the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC, where he conceived and directed his thesis film, tHE tOWeR oF BabBLe, winning more than a dozen awards before taking the top prize in the Chrysler Million Dollar Film Festival.

Wadlow used the million-dollar grant to make his first feature, Cry Wolf, which was released by Universal Studios. His next feature, the action/drama Never Back Down, beat out big-budget competition to win Best Fight at the MTV Movie Awards, kicking off an MMA franchise with two sequels and counting. Wadlow also developed and executive produced the worldwide hit Non-Stop.

Since 2004, Wadlow has returned to his hometown to lead The Adrenaline Film Project, a program he founded to help filmmakers of all ages, write, shoot, and screen a short film in the Virginia Film Festival in just 72 hours. Through the Adrenaline Film Project, Wadlow has helped produce more than two hundred short films, personally mentoring over six hundred aspiring filmmakers.

Eric Heisserer is a screenwriter and author.  Most recently, he wrote the Netflix hit thriller Bird Box. He is the creator and showrunner for the first season of Netflix’s “Shadow and Bone,” based on the bestselling fantasy novels of Leigh Bardugo.  He recently signed a first-look deal with Paramount under his Chronology production banner, and as such, will produce the English language re-imagining of the Paraguayan thriller “Morgue,” written, produced, and directed by Hugo Cardozo, who will executive produce the project with his producing partner, Guido Rud.

Eric Heisserer

Heisserer made his directorial debut with the film Hours, which he also wrote, and earned a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination for his work on Arrival. Prior to Arrival, Heisserer wrote the hit horror film Lights Out, based on the short film by David Sandberg.

Heisserer also created and wrote the original title “Secret Weapons” for Valiant Comics and the graphic novel “Lone Wolf 2100: Chase the Setting Sun” for Dark Horse Comics, based on his relationship with them from the “Shaper” graphic novels he wrote for Dark Horse Books.

A published author, Heisserer’s books include 150 Screenwriting Challenges; he has also written several short stories for the anthology site Popcorn Fiction, including “Hours,” which became the template for the movie, along with personal stories he collected from Katrina survivors. His previous feature work includes Final Destination 5, The Thing, and the Nightmare on Elm Street remake.

Heisserer grew up in Oklahoma, where his father taught ancient history at Oklahoma University and took him on sabbaticals to rare and fascinating European locales. 

A self-described “autodidact,” Heisserer began his writing career in the mid-1990s in the tabletop game market, but he broke in as a screenwriter with an online epistolary story called “The Dionaea House,” a series of letters from the fictional Mark Condry to the author. Warner Bros. bought the rights to “The Dionaea House,” which led to screenwriting jobs with Paramount, Warner Bros, CBS and Jerry Bruckheimer Films.

Directing Bloodshot

Bringing it all together is director David S. F. Wilson. As the co-director of Blur Studio, Wilson and his partner, Tim Miller, had been lauded as visionary minds as they created some of the most innovative trailers, visual effects, commercials, and game cinematics in the industry. Miller would make his feature film debut with the box office breakthrough Deadpool, and Wilson sought a story that was suited to his own sensibilities.

Wilson says that taking on the new challenge of directing a feature film pushed him out of his comfort zone – which is just where he likes it. “I was excited, mixed with a lot of terror over what I would discover about myself – but that is the most exciting part for me,” he says. “I love what I have been doing for the last 15 years, but this is an adventure I wouldn’t pass up for the world. Ultimately, directing is about knowing your story inside out – and I know how to do that.”

“Dave brings the cinematic language of video game culture, and it’s exciting to see him translate that to a long form narrative,” says Jaffe. “The film has a very different visual style and visual look to what we have seen in other movies – a style of gritty, visual action that’s particularly well-suited for Vin Diesel.”

“There’s so much technology in front of the camera on this movie, that behind the camera, it meant everything to have Dave Wilson – who has had a tremendous visual effects career – at the helm,” says Moritz. “For me, as a cinema geek, it’s a thrill to see what he achieved on the big screen – only somebody of Dave’s caliber could’ve made this happen.”

David S. F. Wilson recently directed the pilot episode of the Netflix series “Love, Death + Robots,” titled “Sonnie’s Edge.” The series is created and executive produced by David Fincher & Tim Miller.

Wilson was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, then dropped out of college, disillusioned as filmmaking, visual effects, and interactive entertainment apparently didn’t fit the criteria for a viable career to sexagenarian guidance counselors.

Mastering in applied mathematics in the early nineties, he found fellow fugitive filmmaker Sharlto Copley, and they started a visual effects company together. Wilson quickly rose to the top of his field, creating a name for himself as an innovator in the world of animation and visual effects. 

Word soon traveled to the US and he was recruited by Tim Miller – who would go on to become the director of Deadpool –  to move to Blur Studio in Venice, California, dormitory of the disaffected lost boys of animation, where Wilson would eventually serve as Creative Director.

A highly visual artist, Wilson’s stunning aesthetic is instantly recognizable across the dozens of commercials and short form pieces for various marketing campaigns over the last decade, working repeatedly with such top brands as Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, and LucasFilm, on titles like “Star Wars,” “Halo,” “The Division,” “Elder Scrolls,” “Titanfall,” and “Mass Effect.”