Bullet Train – movie review

People and cultures collide in David Leitch’s literally fast-paced action thriller, Bullet Train. Leitch (Deadpool 2) uses his stylised but often profuse violence to great effect in this rollicking tale of intersecting characters and agendas. And while the film is hardly cerebral, I found myself swept along by it.

Screenwriter Zak Olkewicz adapts Kôtarô Isaka’s novel of the same name for the big screen. The influence of manga and kung-fu movies is apparent. Leitch also borrows a few tricks from Quentin Tarantino while liberally employing CGI to create a hyper-real, almost dizzying, feel to the film. The kinetic action barely lets up, and I’m sure fans wouldn’t have it any other way.

The set-up is simple – a group of people converge on an overnight bullet train (or shinkansen, if you’re playing along at home) between Tokyo and Kyoto. They include Kimura (Andrew Koji), who is searching for the person who threw his son off a roof; hired guns Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) who are charged with protecting the son of a Russian crime lord and a briefcase full of cash; Ladybug (Brad Pitt), another covert operative whose job is to swipe said briefcase; and Prince (Joey King) whose motives are obscure but may be the person who hurt Kimura’s son. A couple of rogue operators – the Wolf (Benito A Martínez Ocasio a.k.a. Bad Bunny) and the Hornet (Zazie Beetz) – also crash the party. Along the way anime characters, deadly snakes, drugged water bottles and improvised explosive devices will all play a part.

Bullet Train epitomises the description “a mile wide and an inch deep”. The characters are barely developed, the plot is outrageously simple (despite a lot of window dressing) and things just get sillier the longer it goes. Also, its depiction of Japanese culture is superficial at best. But none of that matters. No one is coming to Bullet Train for character development or nuanced plots. This is about action – and it really delivers. Olkewicz’s script delivers several clever twists by revealing connections between the characters. And while the trick gets a little stale (showing the story arc of an inanimate object was maybe a step too far), it helps to tie up the many loose ends. As expected, Olkewicz and Leitch infuse plenty of comedy – and comedy-violence – into the mix.

Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood) turns on the charm as Ladybug, an assassin trying to re-invent himself with a more Zen approach to his work. I know the whole killer-with-a-conscience thing is becoming a bit of a cliche, but Pitt makes it work.  Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Tenet) and Brian Tyree Henry (Joker) update the British comedy duo with some fine moments of banter and slapstick. Joey King breaks out of her teen persona in a more mature role as Prince. Andrew Koji probably gets the most believable character of them all as Kimura. Leitch peppers his film with cameo appearances by name actors including Sandra Bullock, Michael Shannon and Ryan Reynolds.

Although it doesn’t really offer anything very new or innovative, Bullet Train is a wild ride. This is one to switch off the old brain and just coast along with. It’s funny, clever and engaging – definitely a winning combo. So long as you’re not too troubled by graphic but cartoonish violence, this is a journey worth taking. Don’t set your expectations too high, and buy yourself a ticket.

David Edwards

Other reviews you might enjoy: