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Bloodshot never had a chance of starting a new cinematic universe

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Vin Diesel’s superhero movie was doomed by a pandemic, but are new cinematic universes, too? 

As one of the last movies to premiere in theaters before the coronavirus pandemic shut down social gatherings, Bloodshot has had a terrible journey to existence. Once upon a time, the Vin Diesel-led action movie based on the comic book from Valiant Entertainment would have kicked off a new cinematic universe built around its superheroes. That is no longer the case, largely due to a shift in which studio now has the film rights to most Valiant characters. But even if rights weren’t an issue, Bloodshot — which is more of a middling action movie than a promising superhero debut — doesn’t inspire confidence. And in the midst of a pandemic that has reshaped Hollywood, is there even room for a new cinematic universe anymore?

As an action movie, Bloodshot is the worst kind of uninspiring: not bad enough to circle back around toward fun, not good enough at action to be even momentarily impressed by a fight scene. Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) is a soldier rebuilt with the power of high-tech nanomachines that make him super strong, super fast, and able to recover from any injury. The company that did this wants Garrison to be a guinea pig, and Garrison just wants to use his powers to get revenge on the man who killed his wife. The twist comes when Garrison learns that his memories are forgeries, manipulated to motivate him into doing some corporate dirty work. When a potential rival needs to be taken out, handlers wipe Garrison’s memories to give him a new nightmare where someone different killed his wife, and let his desire for revenge run its course. It’s a wonderfully twisted state of affairs, all hamstrung by truly awful writing and action that plays like a CW show with a little extra spending money from dad.

It’s, quite simply, boring — the kind of boring that quickly makes you feel like you made a mistake, even if you knowingly put it on because you’re stuck at home with nothing to do for an hour and forty minutes.

There’s something admirable about Bloodshot’s unassuming take on comic book worldbuilding, but it has the unfortunate downside of making everything about it forgettable. It’s hard to imagine Bloodshot ginning up much excitement for a sequel or kicking off a cinematic universe like an earlier version of it was supposed to. (That movie was going to be directed by the directors of John Wick, with Jared Leto in talks to star.) But in the grand scheme of things, it’s difficult to envision another cinematic universe getting off the ground anymore.

To this day, the Marvel Cinematic Universe remains the only sprawling movie enterprise of its type to find any real success. Every other attempt has been aborted — most famously, Universal’s Dark Universe, and most interestingly, the DCEU, which is actively being retooled under a state of plausible deniability where it does not particularly matter if its post-Justice League films are connected or not. The exception that proves the rule is The Conjuring, which has spawned a web of horror movies loosely connected by the collection of mementos kept under lock and key by the paranormal investigators at the center of that franchise.

Creating a cinematic universe is hard, if not impossible, and as Hollywood moves into triage to salvage this year’s releases, extending them into 2021, the idea of a new one just seems increasingly absurd. Whether the plans to build a new constellation of films starring Valiant’s non-Bloodshot characters will weather this storm is just one of the countless projects in limbo right now. The economics of the entertainment industry are being entirely upended, and a return to the previous status quo seems increasingly unlikely. Marvel movies will likely be fine with some reconfiguring, DC films will likely stick around, and mega-franchises like The Fast and Furious movies or Star Wars are probably not going anywhere.

But the era where studios actively try to catch the cinematic universe wave? That trend might be over for everyone but the biggest players in Hollywood, a strange period in history brought to an even stranger end.