As we await Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, this summer’s biggest action blockbuster, and while we’re still recovering from John Wick 4 (or Fast X, depending on your taste!), it’s time to revisit a film from last year: Bullet Train, starring Brad Pitt among many, many other actors. This 2022 American flick by David Leitch is adapted from the eponymous novel, and features Ladybug (Pitt), an overly sensitive assassin who finds himself stuck aboard a Japanese Shinkansen (bullet train) filled with badass killers. Think Train to Busan with mobsters instead of zombies! Bullet Train is no action masterpiece, which probably explains why many critics weren’t especially enthusiastic about it (some even called it brainless), but it is creative and fun. I see it as a nice amuse-bouche: it won’t satiate your hunger for action movies, but it is a perfect watch while awaiting the next big film.
Brad Pitt’s ultimate wild ride
Bullet Train’s premise is simple enough, but it offers to director David Leitch (known to action fans for Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2 and Hobbs and Shaws) an opportunity to deliver two hours of pure, unbridled chaos. The film’s unique setting makes it worth a watch: aboard the bullet train, everything is cute and weird all at once, starting with the Japanese remix of Stayin’ alive which blasts through the opening credits. The story also makes the most of some iconic aspects of Japanese culture, from the improbably adorable mascots to the fierce yakuza mobsters. The action scenes are just like the train itself: creative and fast-paced, a fairly good combination!
We follow Pitt’s Ladybug as he desperately tries to find his way in a foreign country, and represses his anxiety thanks to new age therapist Barry and his mysterious handler – who chats with him through an earpiece. Brad Pitt’s protagonist is quirky but competent, a successful combination that action fans already enjoyed in No Time to Die’s Paloma (Ana De Armas). The actor is definitely having fun on screen, and seeing his fearful character stuck on a train full of larger-than-life villains is nothing short of hilarious. Despite being freshly out of therapy, Ladybug hasn’t lost his combat skills, and he gets to use them against a wide range of bad guys – for our viewing pleasure. Brad Pitt is the film’s greatest asset, and even the director knows it. David Leitch makes the most of the star’s quiet energy, which provides the perfect contrast with all the craziness around. Pitt’s performance itself already makes Bullet Train worth a watch, but it isn’t the film’s only quality.
Cool villains galore…
Some critics argued that the film has nothing interesting to offer, but I can safely disagree. The movie refuses to take part in a debate on whether style or substance matter more in action flicks: its style is its substance, and Bullet Train’s sole purpose is to be fun and enjoyable. As implied by the title, it brings viewers on a crazy ride without too many plot twists and turns, and allows us to just sit back and enjoy the show.
Of course, the film features an amazing cast of villains. A special mention goes to duo of British assassins Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), one of whom is jaded while the other has a fairly unique obsession with kids TV show Thomas the Tank Engine. Deadpool fans will also recognise Zazie Beetz, here playing a foul-mouthed killer, the Hornet, who has a passion for both costumes and poisons – a lethal combination of interests. Another of the film’s more threatening antagonists is The Prince, a sociopathic, pink-wearing nightmare perfectly played by Joey King. While many bad guys are dispatched as soon as they get introduced, Bullet Train knows that their iconic looks and fighting styles will stay with us for long.
All of these cold blooded killers first seem like passengers who randomly stumbled upon each other aboard a Shinkansen, but as the film progresses, their hidden ties are revealed through some clever flashbacks. The movie sometimes looks like it has something to say about honour and family, but apart from a flashback highlighting Tangerine and Lemon’s brotherly bonds, these attempts at emotional complexity don’t last. This is probably for the best, because Leitch is more at ease with action scenes. When I called the movie an amuse-bouche, I actually meant it: Bullet Train can be watched in one go while enjoying its crazy plot and setting. The film isn’t a four courses action masterpiece, but it is perfect to keep you waiting for this summer’s upcoming action movies.