There can be a certain snobbery with action thrillers that don’t take themselves too seriously and while the irreverent, bolshy nature of Bullet Train will inevitably rub some people up the wrong way, David Leitch‘s escapism possesses merits and is a lot of fun.
Leitch’s mixes the wry irreverence of Deadpool 2 with the neon-drenched fight choreography of John Wick. It’s been compared to the dire Smokin’ Aces, and on a superficial level you can see the similarities, but Bullet Train is an altogether more likeable film. At least once it gets past the endless title cards for the characters, casual hyperviolence and choppy flashback sequences, all of which scream “this is cool!” before anything has actually happened.
While that’s overwhelming, the director reigns in the smugness once the plot begins in earnest, with a refreshingly self-effacing sense of humour, some offbeat fight sequences and charming performances. It bears much more resemblance to Takashi Miike’s First Love, Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire and the similarly smug but still darn good Lucky Number Slevin.
Brad Pitt plays Ladybug, a mercenary trying to get out of the assassin lifestyle. For his final job he just needs to retrieve a suitcase from the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. It’s a simple enough job, but there’s a catch: on the train are several rival hitmen, all after the same suitcase – from the cockney brothers Lemon and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry), to a mysterious assassin known only as The Hornet. Pitt it as a hapless idiot and its fun but strains credulity a little – it’s essentially an older version of his stoner character in True Romance.
Taylor-Johnson and Henry take some getting used to as the British hitmen (as does Henry’s accent), and occasionally there’s an essence of aiming for In Bruges but landing on sub-Guy Ritchie. However they have great chemistry and a surprising amount of pathos. Meanwhile, Joey King stands out for the wrong reasons as an obvious rip-off/homage to KickAss‘ Hit-Girl. Her mannered performance and English accent leave a lot to be desired, as does the films insistence that she’s “cool”.
Despite this, there’s a fun (if unintentional) little in-joke where for all her cocksure bravado, whenever it matters other characters see right through her, with Pitt even commenting “The narcissism of this girl!“ – On the opposite side, there’s some frustrating fleeting appearances for the likes of Karen Fukuhara and Masi Oki, plus Hiroyuki Sanada and Andrew Koji are great in their roles, but you’d hope a film set in Japan would have a bit more Japanese representation in the principle cast.
Vividly shot, Bullet Train is unlikely to going to appear on anyone’s “best of 2022” lists, but it’s witty, funny and has fun, interesting fight sequences. It genuinely surprised me in places and made me laugh in others. What more can you really ask for?
The Extras include diving into the Easter Eggs with Catch What You Missed, a look at the so-called Trained Professionals: The Cast, with a film packed with fight sequences, it’s All Aboard the Pain Train and the stunts, a general Mission Accomplished: Making of Bullet Train, plus Filmmaker Commentary with David Leitch, Kelly McCormick and Zak Olkewicz!