In recent years, action movies have become synonymous with well-established franchises, be they the big spectacles of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the snappy-paced stories in the Fast and Furious movies. However, every so often, a stand-alone film hits the big screen and delivers on thrills just as well as any of the big IPs.
Sony’s latest star-studded feature, Bullet Train, proves itself to be one of these modern gems, as we witness Brad Pitt and the rest of the film’s A-lister cast embark on the ride of their lives. Directed by David Leitch, whose previous credits include the likes of Deadpool 2, Bullet Train is a fast-paced drama which follows a group of colourful assassins onboard a (drumroll please) bullet train in Japan.
The film opens with one simple mission before expanding into a controlled chaos of intertwining narratives, giving us action, intrigue, and entertaining individual character profiles in one go. It begins with the unlucky agent, codename ‘Ladybug’ (Brad Pitt), who, after another operative drops out, takes on the task of retrieving a mysterious briefcase from a Bullet Train heading for Kyoto.
However, as fate would have it, the retrieval mission isn’t exactly as easy as it sounds. Shortly after embarking on the train, Ladybug is battling assassins for the case and is thrown into the middle of a deadly conspiracy involving ‘The White Death’ – aka the world’s most dangerous gangster.
Besides Ladybug, the lethal forces on the train include the likes of the twins Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Hornet (Zazie Beetz), The Wolf (Bad Bunny), and the mysterious Prince (Joey King) who is holding Kimura’s (Andrew Koji) son hostage.
Usually, a large cast is a red flag for a film, making it feel diluted and unfocused. But, despite the massive influx of separate assassins, Bullet Train is never bogged down, and it is easy to fall in love with each wacky and murderous character we meet.
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Like how the Bullet Train itself stops for a minute at every station, Leitch gives the audience a quick snapshot into all the character’s backstories via breakout scenes. These flashbacks are slotted into the film’s otherwise linear narrative and hold enough information without overstaying their welcome.
Every assassin is introduced with a title card, a mini montage, and as the film progresses, all their stories begin to interlink. As Ladybug faces each of the deadly agents, the mystery surrounding his mission and the White Death is exposed, resulting in a satisfying and extremely entertaining narrative pay-out.
But saying all this, Bullet Train’s script isn’t without faults. Several jokes in the film follow the same beat, such as fights being interrupted by civilians on the train. While it is hilarious to see Ladybug grapple for his life while smiling at an unknowing bystander at first, these whimsical moments quickly lose their oomph as the film goes on.
The repetition of Bullet Train’s plot becomes especially noticeable as the number of filler moments increases thanks to the film’s lengthy 2-hour runtime.
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There is also the case of déjà vu in Bullet Train’s cinematography and structure, as the thriller never strays away from the tropes and expectations of the action genre. We have seen the flashback reveal formula done repeatedly in tons of heist and crime movies, such as Quintin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.
Similarly, the graphic novel approach to the assassin introductions feels reminiscent of films such as Scott Pilgrim Vs the World. While the operative’s theatrical flashback stories almost have a Sin City quality to them.
For those familiar with the genre, it can be hard to shake all these comparisons or find a calling card in Bullet Train’s story and style that is uniquely its own besides the fact that the action is actually set on a Bullet Train.
However, despite this ongoing feeling of familiarity, Leitch’s film is fun and bold enough to get away with all of its predictability. The thing is, when you watch a film like Bullet Train, of course, you want a refreshing story, but you also want the big stunts, the big laughter, and of course, to see Brad Pitt clinging to a fast-moving vehicle for dear life.
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Leitch knows our expectations and delivers tenfold. From elaborate hand-to-hand combat scenes, assassins flying out of moving trains, deadly snakes lose in the carriages, and some classic double crossing – Bullet Train has it all.
And let’s just say with all these stunts, gore and adrenaline-inducing sequences, it is hard to be bored. Similarly, all the actors keep our attention hooked thanks to their impressive ensemble work, chemistry, and dedication to their roles.
Brad Pitt as a non-violent agent who has a habit of accidentally killing people, is hilarious, as is the murderous duo Tangerine and Lemon, with Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry’s back and forth proving to be a standout feature of the flick.
It is easy to see that everyone had fun making this movie, and their enthusiasm is infectious on the big screen. I can’t deny that I left Bullet Train with a big smile on my face. But walking out of the dark screening room, I admit the film’s length kept haunting my initial assessment of it.
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With my now cleared head, I can confidently say Bullet Train is a great action film, and its story is entertaining enough that it easily stands next to (if not above) Marvel movies and other major franchises.
Its characters and stunts are its best assets, but its third act is too long, and overall it just never pushes expectations enough to establish itself as a true breakout genre piece.
Still, it is by no means disappointing, and if you are a fan of big spectacles and adrenaline-laced sequences, Bullet Train is truly an unmissable entry that you won’t regret adding to your 2022 watch list.
Bullet Train review
Despite its drawn-out length, Bullet Train is overly dramatic, colourful, and just plain action-packed fun.