Few actors epitomize a serial action star more than this 52 year old Alameda County, California native, whose Herculean build, gruff voice, and stuntcrushing strength have graced no fewer than 30 films in two decades. His reprised roles in franchise blockbusters like The Fast and the Furious, XXX, and Avengers solidified much of this superhero stardom. And, while any cinematic series assumes a level of plot development, Diesel consistently pushes his character’s emotional growth beyond surface level storylines. From his breakout performance as Riddick in Pitch Black (2000) to his infamous portrayal of Fast and the Furious’s Dominic Toretto, Diesel’s characterizations invite audiences to reconsider his inherently gritty, violent superhuman protagonists as relatable and empathetic antiheroes.

His latest venture, Bloodshot, released on March 13, sees him depicting a Valiant Comics character of the same name from the bestselling graphic novel series. Co-produced by Original Film and Valiant Entertainment and distributed by Columbia Pictures, this will be the first Valiant Comics foray into the Marvel and DC dominated cinematic universe. Diesel stars as Ray Garrison, a soldier recently killed in action and resurrected to be a corporate assassin. Like a militant Frankenstein experiment, with an army of nanotechnology (nanites) coursing through his veins, he’s an unstoppable force, complete with superhuman strength and shapeshifting and healing powers. But as the company controls his body, mind, and memories, he’s unable to discern between reality and conspiracy, even as he’s hellbent on revenge against those who murdered him and his wife.

In a Sony Pictures Entertainment studio interview, Diesel explained that, “exploring a character like Bloodshot…[someone who] has been the victim of his mind being manipulated so deeply, is to explore a character that is this killing machine, and uncover what drives him to be [that]. We think of him as this badass soldier…that has this unique ability due to the nanites in his blood, but what’s fascinating about this character is that he’s motivated by something we’d all be motivated by, which is love. And what’s tragic about the character is how love is manipulated.”

These notions of manipulation, revenge, and heart are recurring themes in Diesel’s roles. As three time leading man, Richard Riddick, in The Chronicles of Riddick, he plays a mercenary turned militant of a warrior race of adapted humans. An antiheroic protagonist well versed in murdering, prison breaking, and plotting and despite his intrinsic criminal nature he maintains a moral compass that rivals his survivalist tendencies. Though a merciless killer when necessary, he holds space to aid people along his missions, especially children and others he feels kinship to. That vulnerability presents a double edged sword, leading to Riddick’s downfall when his kindness toward a feigned confidante, for example, gets him caught by a bounty hunter. Likewise in the Fast and Furious franchise, Diesel plays Dominic, the kingpin of a street racing gang, orchestrating multimillion dollar heists, carjacking rings, and illegal government dealings. He’s callous, but also a caretaker, taking the patriarchal role after his father dies, and leading a pack of renegades through an unspoken code of loyalty. His aggressive temperament and volatility is most triggered when his family is endangered, and so Diesel once again plays a character whose hostility is fueled by love.

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This balance of muscle and morals similarly colors the performance in Bloodshot.

“Playing a character that evokes fear and empathy I thought was fascinating,” he added in the Sony Pictures Entertainment interview. “I feel that anyone can identify with feeling manipulated as we watch the news in our daily lives. There’s so many moments that we’re feeling force fed or manipulated. That I think creates an interesting character. I was drawn to the idea of playing a character that had superhero like powers, but also embraces his PTSD.”

The idea of technology owing through a human’s veins under corporate control is certainly topical in our age of misinformation. And, of course, PTSD is an increasingly pervasive issue its resulting social alienization and emotional instability now generational plagues. Exploring these themes under the guise of a superhero can prove equally harrowing and relatable to audiences.

Scanning his filmography, Diesel’s easily typecast as the villainous assassin/superhero, but what elevates his characterizations is an ability to flip the script and invite viewers to emote in the antihero’s shoes. He noted that, “what makes Bloodshot a unique character is the question of whether or not he’s a superhero. He’s not waking up planning to save the world; his agenda isn’t to rescue the planet. He’s trying to stop the insanity that’s being induced upon him, and fighting for clarity. It’s not your traditional superhero movie.”

If Diesel’s interpretation rings true, there are elements in Bloodshot’s nefarious character worth empathizing with. In the heat of revenge, he drops a killer one liner: “You turned me into a weapon, and now it’s pointing at you.”

Our social climate abounds with blurring lines of truth and conspiracy and mounting concerns over planetary health, which inspire many to seek clarity and take action. While the likelihood of the public becoming caped crusaders is slim, as it increasingly mobilizes to challenge governmental forces and course correct its wrongdoing, perhaps Diesel’s assertion of hero as human isn’t that fantastical after all.