The easiest way to describe Bullet Train is just a good old fashion fun time at the movies. Sometimes that’s all you need a movie to be. While Bullet Train does try to dabble in themes of fate and luck, and it doesn’t necessarily flounder at those themes, it’s strongest quality is that it has no problem putting that on the caboose and just treating the audience to a good time first and foremost. This is a film where you can tell everyone making it had a fun time and that comes through the screen and absorbs into you like osmosis.
Much of the marketing of Bullet Train would lead you to believe that it’s simply an action comedy set on the titular Bullet Train and while that’s true to an extent, it’s more than that. This is a character driven crime mystery. It has more in common with something like Bad Times at the El Royale than it does with a Deadpool 2 and that’s its greatest strength. Bullet Train is driven by a core cast of characters that are incredibly fun to watch even if they aren’t the deepest. Yes, this is very much a Brad Pitt movie and as always, he is fantastic and effortlessly charming in the role of a Ladybug, an assassin in the middle of a spiritual crisis of conscience but the rest of the cast all turn in memorable performances. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry in particular steal pretty much every scene they’re in as a pair of British twin assassins named Lemon and Tangerine. One with an incredible mustache and another with a Thomas the Tank Engine fascination. These two would fit right into a classic Guy Ritchie movie and are a fun enough duo with such great chemistry together that I could easily see a spin-off based on them.
Even the smaller roles get their chance to shine. Bad Bunny and Zazie Beetz both get some great fight scenes and Michael Shannon shows up to ham it up and be intimidating. The only cast member who gets the short end of the stick is The Boys Karen Fukuhara who is wasted in a nothing role of concession girl and does nothing of note other than give Brad Pitt a bottle of sparkling water. Having a talent like her in the cast who easily could have matched up to any of them in fight scenes or character moments be used as little more than a background extra really is a shame and it mars an otherwise wonderfully utilized cast.
At the center of Bullet Train is a mystery that unfurls into more mysteries until they all come back together as a single entity. It’s not the most clever mystery you’ll see in a movie like this and if you’re well-versed in this genre or basic story structure then you might guess some of the reveals before they happen but the nature of how each mystery opens pandora’s box to a new one keeps everything moving a nice pace. You’ll never be waiting too long for the characters to figure out something you already have and when they do, it just opens up more questions.
The mystery unravels with the help of flashbacks, many of which are in the first act. While act one can seem slow due the amount of flashbacks packed into it, they becomes satisfying once you realize how they all tie in to one another by the end. I do think that the editing could have been tighten a bit. There are a few flashbacks that get repeated a few times that don’t really need to be and as I said, act one can feel bogged down by the amount of flashbacks but overall, once the movie gets going, it’s not that big of a problem.
With a name like Bullet Train and director David Leitch at the helm, you expect there to be some quality action choreography and you would be correct. Trading in the gun-fu of John Wick for some very fun, high energy fisticuffs where combatants use whatever objects they can find to help them, Bullet Train is full of fast paced and kinetic brawls. I’ve probably said the word fun enough times in this to make even SpongeBob groan but I’m going to say it again, this movie is fun and the fight choreography matches that. Even more violent stuff like a sword fight in act three is backed with a Japanese cover of Bonnie Tyler’s 80’s magnum opus Holding Out for a Hero to make the violence more lively. The action matches the tone of the movie which is how good action should be.
One thing I appreciated best about Bullet Train was that its comedy wasn’t just pop culture references or sarcastic comments with no punchlines. This is a character movie first and foremost and so the comedy comes from how those characters interact with each other and the world around them. Brad Pitt isn’t just making smarmy comments, he is reacting to situations the way an assassin on a spiritual cleansing would react. Tangerine and Lemon are brilliantly funny together, not because they tell jokes, but because they just say funny things and it’s not for the sake of saying something, they’re just funny characters so what they say is amusing. Lemon doesn’t compare people to Thomas the Tank Engine because he’s in a comedy and needs to be funny, he does it because his character legitimately uses the personality of the trains in Thomas to measure people’s characters. In an era where the Marvel formula of having characters quip for the sake of having a quip runs rampant, it’s refreshing to see comedy just be allowed to happen.
Ultimately, Bullet Train accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do and that’s being a fun action crime comedy. It’s not trying to do anything other than offer audiences an entertaining two hours. While it does have a theme in there, and it’s not exactly buried deep in subtext, this film’s mission first and foremost is give viewers an enjoyable ride with an eclectic cast of characters played by performers who are all having a blast. Other films may have given you similar rides, but that doesn’t matter when this one is so enjoyable.
Rating: Cruise Commendation
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