Bullet Train; Director: David Leitch; Writers: Zak Olkewicz, Kōtarō Isaka; Cast: Brad Pitt, Brian Tyree Henry, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Joey King, Hiroyuki Sanada; American action film, 152 minutes, 2022
“Bullet Train” is as fast as you’d expect it to be but even the speed cannot hide all of its shortcomings. Sure, it arrives on time but the final destination is just a spot on the list of this year’s forgettable summer movies – but it is worth watching nevertheless.
By looking at the latest trends, it seems like no one is making an action movie in 2022 without also making it somewhat crazy. There are the really offbeat ones – like “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” – and then there are the friendlier ones – such as the light-hearted “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” – that did not manage to live up to its title. David Leitch has put “Bullet Train” somewhere in between: it uses the current action movie trends perfectly, it has some well-written jokes and interesting ideas but overall, it fails to become a truly outstanding movie.
“Bullet Train”’s protagonist is Ladybug (Brad Pitt), the recently reformed hitman who tries to avoid stress at work as much as possible. His simple mission is to get a briefcase on a Japanese train, which he does soon enough, but getting off is not nearly as easy as he thought it would be. The assassin’s unwanted stay on the train is made more difficult by two other killers, Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and that’s without mentioning the psychopathic teenage girl, the White Death and the mysterious poisoner.
Honestly, there’s nothing new in “Bullet Train” for those who have seen any action/superhero movie in the past few years — but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work (and thankfully, that’s more often the case). Although Brad Pitt is the lead, it’s the duo of Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson we have to thank for the film’s greatest moments. The chemistry and humor of the pair is particularly well-written compared to the others, including the phenomenally put together “Thomas the Tank Engine” personality analysis that defines Lemon‘s character. Visually, the 2-hour train ride bathed in neon light is quite convincing, made exciting in the long run by the superb editing and soundtrack.
What can spoil the overall picture, however, is the bland plot, the unnecessary and predictable accumulation of twists and turns, and the two villains. David Leitch‘s direction is at its weakest when it tries to impress the audience with frivolous twists and stylistic elements, and this is particularly true of both – if one can say so in this film – villainous characters. Since the first hour of the film is all about serving the trends, it can get tiring. Fortunately, the second half mostly makes up for it: all the jokes, twists and characters are brought to their climax.
David Leitch has done what he does best: a fast-paced, bloody, utterly chaotic action film with a soul and heart in the right place, even if that alone is not enough to always save the film. If you can get through the boring first act, you can enjoy some creatively presented jokes and a surprisingly well-constructed catharsis. It’s a shame that the experience vanishes instantly, like a train at a Kyoto train station after a minute.