Bullet Train (based on the Japanese novel of the same name) is the latest action bonanza from stuntman-turned-director David Leitch, and it finally sees him reunite with Brad Pitt. Only this time as the Hollywood A-Lister's director, as opposed to his stuntman. Accompanying Leitch and Pitt on this Bullet Train is an all-star cast featuring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Joey King, Hiroyuki Sanada, Bad Bunny, and Brian Tyree Henry. In recent years, Leitch has proven himself to be one of the premiere ‘Popcorn Movie' directors, and he proudly continues building that reputation with his new comedic action-thriller. A quintessential Leitch film is one that contains entertaining, stylised action along with a plethora of gags, which is all led by a charismatic superstar. Although his latest may slip in ways his past films haven't, Bullet Train largely delivers on its promise of being a fun summer blockbuster, in huge part thanks to its supremely talented cast and visual spectacle.
The film's narrative focuses on a group of assassins who all wind up on a bullet train travelling from Tokyo to Morioka. Although it appears their motives are different, fate (the story's not-so-subtle theme) sees their lives all connected by an unusual chain of events that seemingly links to the briefcase Pitt's character is ordered to “snatch and grab.”
Bullet Train kicks off at a relatively fast pace, as we don't wait long to see Pitt's character – an assassin cheekily named “Ladybug” – who's on route for his supposedly quick in and out bullet train mission. Here, Ladybug is amusingly introduced as an assassin trying to find his Zen, as he shares his therapist's words of wisdom while ignoring his handler's (Sandra Bullock) advice to take a gun with him. As Ladybug boards, we, chaotically, meet the bickering Cockney twin brothers, Tangerine (Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Henry), the deceiving child Prince (King), as well as the revenge-fuelled Yuichi Kimura (Andrew Koji) and The Wolf (Bad Bunny). Despite the choppy nature of these introductions, they do provide audiences with the necessary realisation of the mayhem that is about to ensue.
Unlike Leitch's other films, his latest takes a little while to get going. The delicate tonal balance of comedy and action isn't instantly found, and the narrative lacks structure. However, once the train gets on track, the Pitt-led vehicle is an entertaining ride jam-packed with intelligently crafted (and brutal) action scenes that expertly utilise the film's setting. A prime example is the fight scene between Pitt and Taylor-Johnson. It is not only slick in execution but hilarious as both characters pause when a train worker wheels in a food cart and Ladybug even orders water to delay the fight while Tangerine pays the bill. Moments like this, as well as brilliantly inserted cameos, reoccurring gags like Lemon's fascination with Thomas the Tank Engine, and well-worked plot twists that build to a fun climax keep Bullet Train (mostly) flying at an enjoyable pace.
The true strength of this action-thriller and what keeps you engaged, through good and bad moments, is the superb cast. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is having a field day playing Tangerine, and King shows great depth as Prince, but the clear standout is Pitt. From the moment his character appears on screen, he effortlessly guides scenes with his wit and charisma, which is more impressive as he's not playing the traditional “tough guy.” Leitch offers his stars a lot of freedom, and Pitt latches onto this by being the most consistently funny presence from start to finish. This is highlighted by moments like his phone calls with Bullock and his character's overly fearful reaction to the relatively harmless train conductor. Whenever the film lags, Pitt brings it back to life.
Unfortunately, in addition to being the highlight of Bullet Train, Pitt's character is also an example of the film's glaring flaws. Unlike Leitch's previous outings (e.g. Deadpool 2), there's a surprising lack of emotion driving his main protagonist throughout the narrative. By the end, it feels like everyone has a genuine motivation except for Pitt, which weakens the audience engagement as the film's novelty of “fate” dictating events wears off. Zak Olkewicz's script is clearly relying on pizzazz and charisma to cover the lack of depth in its storytelling. The multiple flashbacks often feel like filler to pad out the unnecessarily long two-hour-thirty minute runtime, and they also feel forced into moments, taking you out of the story.
In 4DX, the Bullet Train experience is greatly enhanced (at times), primarily in its more bombastic sequences, like when bodies are hanging off the speeding train, and you can literally feel the chaos of what's unfolding in front of you. Overall, Leitch's latest doesn't quite hit the heights of his previous blockbusters, but with Pitt and co. leading the charge, Bullet Train still manages to be a fun ride.
Bullet Train is in cinemas (also in 4DX) now.