A hi-octane, violent, funny action movie that ticks all the right boxes.
Multiple trained assassins board a bullet train in Tokyo, only to find out their objectives are intertwined.
Directed by David Leitch (director of Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde, and co-director of John Wick) Bullet Train is a marvellous piece of escapist action. It is a flashy, humorous, and bloody affair that harkens back to old school blockbusters of the 1990s; when all you needed was a simple premise, well choreographed action, and fun performances.
Set almost entirely upon a bullet train, or Shinkansen, in Japan, a train capable of reaching 320km/h, the film follows Brad Pitt’s character, codenamed Ladybug. He is put on this train to collect a briefcase and then exit the train at the next stop. However, he isn’t the luckiest man, and has a track record of things going wrong for him without provocation. That, and after a long history of jobs, he is on a journey of self-healing and positive-thinking to help him get through a day’s work.
Unfortunately, the case’s owners are not to be messed with, and they are on a mission of their own for a very dangerous crime lord. On top of that, several others are looking for revenge, or to settle a score, which involves Ladybug, the briefcase, or even both.
In this day and age of cinema where you either go to see one of three things: a superhero genre movie, a drama, or a horror movie, it is refreshing to go and see a film that is a straight up action movie. A film without grand designs, without prerequisite viewing requirements, without franchise history bogging it down, without pretence of being anything more than what it is.
Bullet Train is a delightful mash of interconnected events, restrained within the confines of a train. With our multiple perspective characters slowly realizing that they are not alone, the pacing escalates rapidly as one would expect, but the film throws several sly twists and surprises to spice things up.
It is well cast as well, with some familiar faces: Brian Tyree Henry (recently in Marvel’s Eternals), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Tenet, Kick-Ass) positively disappearing into his role, Hiroyuki Sanada (2021’s Mortal Kombat, Sunshine), even Masi Oka from television’s Heroes, among others. Everyone looks like they are having a great time.
The film’s pacing is rapid-fire. While we are following Ladybug’s story, we do follow other characters as they are introduced, and we get spontaneous looks at their background and personalities through quick cut aways and flashbacks. This flashy editing style doesn’t become too overwhelming, though, as we have moments of Tarantino-style conversation between characters to slow things down a little bit.
The action is suitably hectic, as you may imagine from the director of Deadpool 2, although similarly with Leitch also working on Atomic Blonde, you will find the action expertly choreographed as well. A lot of the film’s appeal comes from the mixing of Eastern and Western aesthetics, both in combat and cinematography styles.
Sounds pretty good so far!
There’s only some niggling nitpicks that require some suspension of disbelief. While everything is taking place on a bullet train, which is (in evidence) well maintained and controlled by the staff on board, the film’s escalation of fights going unnoticed becomes impossible to ignore. Especially when two characters are fighting in a food and drinks area, literally punching apart cabinets into splinters, only for a member of staff to arrive. The characters feign obliviousness, the language barrier goes some way, but how does the staff member (who is in the room long enough to converse with them) not notice the destruction in an otherwise pristine Japanese train??
It was a little hard to comprehend, even if the film was overall very tongue-in-cheek and clearly designed to be light-hearted escapism.
Overall, though, if you enjoy the eye-candy action movies of the 1990s, or just want a breakneck piece of escapism, you would do well to check it out! It could be quite a slept-on movie, but this ain’t no sleeper service.