Bullet Train is a movie with a simple rule - said train is fast, has few stops, and when it does, these stops are only for one minute. The audience quickly learns what this means - the train is its own isolated echo chamber, and for the characters who are drawn into this deathtrap by fate, anything goes.
Adapted from the popular Japanese novel Maria Beetle by Kotaro Isaka, Bullet Train is a frenetic and chaotic ride chock full of cartoonish violence and silly humour. Director David Leitch, who co-directed the first John Wick
movie with Chad Stahelski, and the more recent Deadpool 2
and Hobbs And Shaw
, tries to outdo not only the action and the insanity of his previous offerings, but also match the comedy - visual and otherwise - of the Deadpool films.
Ladybug (Brad Pitt) is a newly reinstated assassin on his first mission post his comeback, a snatch-and-grab job on a bullet train in Japan. Complicating his job are a brotherly duo of assassins - Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), also on the train to finish their job contracted by a powerful mafia lord named White Death (Michael Shannon). Also on the train is the Japanese assassin Yuichi "The Father" Kimura, who is on the train to avenge the attempt on his son's life.
More people on the train have their fates intertwined, as Ladybug encounters more mysterious characters - The Prince (Joey King), The Wolf (Benito A Martinez Ocasio), and The Hornet (Zazie Beetz). The clock is ticking as the bullet train speeds its way from Tokyo to Kyoto, with Ladybug having only his handler, Maria Beetle, to guide him.
If Snatch met Kill Bill
, and both met Deadpool on a train - we'd probably end up with Bullet Train. This slick entertainer rarely feels stretched out with its 126-minute running time, until the very end when the overall mystery feels somewhat of a letdown. That being said, Bullet Train has every ingredient you need to make a good dark comedy - it boasts of an outstanding ensemble cast with multiple megastar cameos, it is absurd and does not take itself too seriously, it is action-packed and vividly gory yet full of colour, and it banters its way through to the climax alongside some clever (and some not-so-clever) visual comedy. The only thing missing is a script which could handle the frenetic action in a streamlined manner. Instead what we get is a movie constantly zigging and zagging through the current timeline alongside untold flashback sequences, which prevent it from creating an unbroken flow for the audience to follow.
The performances from almost every actor in Bullet Train elevate it far above what its average script had any right to. Lead actor Brad Pitt is extremely comfortable playing an assassin who is trying to be better, and looks to be having a blast with his comedic timing and natural energy. Joey King doesn't look menacing enough, despite her efforts (though we suspect that is something that was done on purpose). Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry are fantastic as the two brothers Tangerine and Lemon, and their antics draw the most amount of laughs. The latter especially is fantastic, with his penchant for trying to understand people through wisdom derived from the kids show Thomas The Tank Engine being the funniest running gag in the movie.
Bullet Train's fun score, by Dominic Lewis, ably complements the visuals. Clever concepts such as using Japanese versions of famous English chartbusters like the Bee Gees' Stayin' Alive (performed by Avu-chan from the band Queen Bee) elevate the movie's global sensibilities.
Bullet Train looks good and is fun to watch, and its slightly weaker script can be forgiven due to the fantastic performances by its talented cast. The film makes an elaborate show of violence and the body count is high - but we know from minute one that everything is over-the-top on purpose and every character is expendable. If such dark comedy is your thing, Bullet Train is a very fun ride. If not, well, it still remains a very fun ride.