Bullet Train Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
A handful of assassins, boarding the same train, quickly figure out that their assignments have something in common.
Genre: Action / Comedy / Thriller
Director: David Leitch
Cast: Brad Pitt, Brian Tyree Henry, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Joey King, Andrew Koji, Bad Bunny, Masi Oka, Zazie Beetz, Hiroyuki Sanada & Michael Shannon.
Run Time: 86 min.
Finnish Release: 04 March 2022
US Release: 29 April 2022 (limited)
German Release: 28 July 2022
Another one of my anticipated movies finally making it to the big screen! David Leitch’s Bullet Train has been marketed since the end of last year, but the release kept being pushed back. Now finally out, I managed to get to see it at the preview in cinemas, sadly in German dub. Never mind though, because it was so damn delightful, that I will go watch it a second time, in English! This action-comedy sees Brad Pitt reunite with the director, although in reversed roles, as Leitch used to be Pitt’s stunt double. So, lean back into your seat, put your feet up and enjoy my review for Bullet Train!
When Ladybug, an unlucky assassin with a new and peaceful philosophy to life, is given an easy job aboard a bullet train, he soon realises that fate might have other plans. As five further assassins board the train, in search of the same item, Ladybug finds himself between a violent collision course with his lethal adversaries and his newfound respect for life itself. Based on the Japanese novel “Maria Beetle” by Kōtarō Isaka, this adaptation was initially developed by Antoine Fuqua, intended to be a serious “Die Hard-esque” type of action thriller. The further into development it went, the more it turned into a light-hearted action comedy, with Sony Pictures hiring David Leitch as director in mid-June 2020.
Bullet Train successfully blends different genres, best described as a mix between the over-the-top Kevin Smith comedy Dogma and Tarantino’s violent action-revenge thriller Kill Bill. All of it rolled out in a similar narrative construct as Smoking Aces, just much more expertly handled! Given the fact that it’s based on a Japanese novel, the story plus visuals also take inspiration from different mangas, as well as animes.
The main plot is a pretty straightforward train ride from A to B, however, the side stories that bring a lot of the characters together are much more complicated and tangled up, than at first glance. Therein lies the strongest feature of the movie, as it is fun to see the lead untangle the connections between all the hitmen, leading to a hilariously satisfying ending that ties up everything nicely and competently. It is also impressive to see how every character was set up as an integral part of the narrative, no matter how short their screen time is.
What drives the plot forward, apart from the action, is the dialogue! This is a very wordy and quirky film that reminds us of early Tarantino pictures, with a lot of quips, including subliminal jokes, working for eighty-per-cent of the film. The other twenty-per-cent are puns that lead to nowhere, falling flat or being missed, though it never diminishes the entertainment.
Brad Pitt as the former assassin “Ladybug” is spectacular! He portrays his character with stylish suaveness plus enough goofiness, which makes him so damn likeable. It is also reported that Pitt did the majority of the stunt himself and one can simply feel how much fun he had on set! The character of Ladybug is that of a sympathetic person, he went through some trauma, now trying to clean up his life, yet is unlucky enough to stumble into unfortunate situations, turning a simple mission into a bloody mess.
Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the hitmen-duo Lemon and Tangerine, are another great addition to the cast. Not only did they play well off each other, both also had electric chemistry with Brad Pitt, which made the jokes pop. This pair of assassins, also known as “the twins”, are tasked to deliver a special briefcase to one of Japan’s most feared crime bosses, with Ladybug being the one who gets in their way.
On the other hand, both could not be more different. While Henry’s Lemon has a hilarious obsession with the characters of Thomas the Tank Engine, Taylor-Johnson’s Tangerine, strides the wagons in search of Ladybug, like the dangerous predator that he is.
Hiroyuki Sanada is one of my favourite Japanese actors, which made the experience much more amusing for me! He plays The Elder, a former Yakuza member and father of Andrew Koji’s Yuichi Kimura. While not obtaining a lot of screen-time, he delivers one of the best action segments in the movie!
Joey King, portraying Prince, gave a brilliant performance as a very flexible persona. She can be chillingly terrifying, just to switch to a sweetly innocent character in the next second. I don’t want to say more about her portrayal, as Prince is one of the mystery characters.
Just as with the plot, the camera work took a lot of inspiration from anime. Especially in terms of colour palettes, which include a lot of bright neon colours for modern Japan, as well as more sombre golds, oranges, and browns, when it came to represent the more traditional culture of the country. The action is helmed very competently, however, it is of no wonder, as it is directed by former stunt coordinator David Leitch. Cinematographer Jonathan Sela, managed to fuse action with comedy in a slick visual style, making it entertaining to watch, once Brad Pitt stumbles from one fight into the next.
The special effects department has done an amazing job with Bullet Train! The Shinkansen wagons needed to be crafted as production took place amidst the COVID-pandemic, with no travelling allowed. According to reports, they made them about ten-per-cent bigger to fit the cameras. While the CGI looks mostly fantastic, it reaches a point where it can be noticeably overloaded. Nevertheless, this can be forgiven as the sequences are incredibly delightful.
The musical score contains a lot of popular music from the 70s / 80s, including a brilliant cover song of “Holding out for a Hero” in Japanese, which adds to the exciting tone of the film.
Verdict: David Leitch’s adaptation of Isaka’s novel might have a few flaws, specifically in the dialogue and CG-effects section, but it all can be forgiven because it is a highly entertaining action-comedy blockbuster! The plot keeps on adding puzzle pieces, reaching a satisfying conclusion at the end. The humour and thrills are very well balanced thanks to the script of Zak Olkewicz and the direction of Leitch himself. Brad Pitt is terrific as the lead, with Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson bringing an equal amount of charisma to the screen. Although, my favourite segment was the battle scene with Hiroyuki Sanada. The camera work is solid, capturing the fight choreography beautifully. While the colour palette is a solid representation of the old and new Japan! Bullet Train is the type of action flick that is simply done way too seldom, absolutely deserving of an 8.5 out of 10.
If you are thinking of going to the cinema to see this blockbuster, I can only support that decision. Did you like Bullet Train? Leave a comment & thank you for reading!