There is a lot going on over the course of the two hours plus that makes up Bullet Train. There are philosophical musings, mistaken identities, savage fights, murders, and more than one accidental death. There’s also a ton of comedy, to the point where this is oddly funnier than it is thrilling, while still being a top notch action flick. The tonal tightrope is sometimes walked a bit sloppily by the film, but by and large, it works. Especially considering how much Bullet Train is just aiming to please with its good natured carnage, it’s a ride you’ll certainly want to take. The movie is often bonkers, but it’s also a real hoot.
Bullet Train has as much action as it has comedy, with the final product being better for such a surprisingly varied mix. There’s a hump to get over while the narrative is still finding its footing, but it’s so much fun to watch these characters, especially the lead played by Brad Pitt, that it’s ultimately of small concern. This movie wants to entertain you at all costs, and entertain it sure does, even if it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
The plot is both fairly simple and also amusingly convoluted, so I’ll stick to the basic set up here. Ladybug (Pitt) is an unlucky assassin back on the job after a break. Buoyed by advice from his therapist and set to do his job for handler Maria (Sandra Bullock) peacefully after one too many sideways ones, it’s supposed to be a simple snatch and grab. Of course, fate, as well as various grievances, have other plans for him. gone off the rails. It turns out, Ladybug’s latest mission has put him on a collision course with a number of other lethal adversaries from around the world, all together on a bullet train through Japan. There’s brothers Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), as well as Wolf (Bad Bunny) and The Horner (Zazie Beetz). None of them know about the other (save for the team of Lemon and Tangerine), but they all have agendas that will quickly come into conflict. Ladybug begins piecing it together with the help of Maria, while having one unlikely and unlucky encounter after the next, spouting new age positivity and such throughout.
Soon, the assassins realize that it’s far from an accident that they’re on this late night train together. As the train becomes emptier and emptier, interactions begin, complete with a body count. Plus, what of the vengeful Kimura (Andrew Koji) and his mysterious father (Hiroyuki Sanada)? How does the young girl Prince (Joey King) fit in? Are strings being pulled by White Death (Michael Shannon), a crime boss spoken about in hushed tones? It’s not hard to guess the answers, but it’s a lot of fun finding out.
Brad Pitt leads a game cast of all-stars that are all having a blast here. Pitt is the highlight of Bullet Train, but that takes nothing away from folks like Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who are a lot of fun, and have the best chemistry amongst the cast. They even bring in some mild emotion. At the same time, Pitt’s mix of befuddlement and attempts at a more Zen-like existence are a hoot. The likes of Joey King and Michael Shannon get to go big, while Andrew Koji and Hiroyuki Sanada balance things out by keeping things ever so slightly grounded, by comparison. Even the less developed parts, like the ones played by Zazie Beetz and Bad Bunny, are still a ton of fun. If there’s one cast member you’d like more from, it’s Sandra Bullock, but that’s more her handler role being a little underwritten than anything she’s doing or not doing. Supporting players here include Logan Lerman, Masi Oka, and more, including a surprise cameo or two that are a total riot. Pitt remains the highlight though, as you’d imagine.
Director David Leitch leans into comedy as much here as he did in Deadpool 2 (alongside kinetic action like in Atomic Blonde). Along with writer Zak Olkewicz, there’s an almost Looney Tunes quality to the zany antics, though obviously with much more blood. It always feels like Leitch and Olkewicz know what they’re up to is ridiculous, so Bullet Train is always in on its own joke. There are some pacing issues and repetition early to midway on that slightly derail things, but once we reach the second half, it’s very much a smooth ride, with lots to like.
Bullet Train is somehow even more fun than you’re likely expecting it to be. If it’s also sillier and perhaps even dopier than you were expecting, well, that’s just part of the deal. If you’re looking for an action flick that’s thrilling and ridiculous in equal measure, you’re in for a treat. Just don’t go in with an expectation of high art. There’s too many jokes (good ones, to boot), about Japanese toilets for that.