An assassin codenamed Ladybug [Pitt] is assigned a snatch and grab job on a bullet train heading from Tokyo to Kyoto. But the simple task escalates continually, as the train is populated with various other assassins and nefarious types – each with their own agenda and ruthless methods. As the bodies pile up, Ladybug does his best to figure out just what the hell is going on.
As an adaptation of a very successful novel, Bullet Train is extremely aesthetically pleasing, with lots of comic book visual flare. Elevated by the soundtrack record-scratching between eclectic rock tracks, Japanese covers of classic songs and a compelling score. In a way, the whole thing sort of reminded me of the visual and aural confidence of Birds Of Prey.
And this is very much Leitch’s calling card, considering his directorial rise through John Wick, Atomic Blonde and Deadpool. A melting pot of electric high-energy, gory, sweary indulgence. The problem is, it lacks charm. Sure, the actors are talented and the scenarios presented are absurd but it struggles to sink its claws in, leaving the audience in a fairly disconnected place. Feeling the unfolding events simply wash over you without notable impact.
This is the kind of ensemble piece where actors get to luxuriate in the heightened cartoony nature of their characters. It’s the sort of environment where you can have cold blooded killers talking about the personality types in Thomas The Tank Engine, as well as a father and son bonding over how fate has brought them to a point of redemption. But the writing for the most part falls flat. There’s passion and energy and commitment to the deliveries but there’s only so much you can do with a mediocre script.
That being said, I found a handful of performances, genuinely compelling. Pitt holds everything together well, demonstrating he is just as much a physical powerhouse as he’s ever been. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry have marvellous chemistry and if any of these characters needed a spin-off prequel, it’d be these two. It’s only when you get marred down in the seriousness of the Kimura family backstory that it starts to become fairly limiting.
I feel like I’d be more forgiving if this was a low budget indie film, plastered with strong visuals and personalities – but as a big name, big budget release, it feels criminally lacking. What we needed here was a really tight, lean, funny madcap experience. But what we got was an admittedly enjoyable, albeit uninspired ordeal.
**spoilers in this paragraph**
To give a bit of context, let’s look at how this film underperforms. An entire section of this story is devoted to a Mexican gangster and his origin. Ladybug is about to step off the train but he is face to face with this po-faced, furious killer. And he’s killed moments later. The mystery of why he’s after Ladybug isn’t the problem, it’s the writing and presentation of the character. We eventually learn that he has details of another assassin, one who was responsible for the death of his entire family… but it’s not Ladybug. So why did he attack him on site? He barely recognised him from the incident and had an envelope with the true perpetrator’s photo. It may not sound like much, it could come off as mere pedantry, but we are continually treated to this throughout the whole film. It only makes sense in the moment and the second you start unravelling it, it all becomes senseless and dull.
Ultimately, I was very disappointed by Bullet Train. Rather than clever, intricate and satisfying, it’s all just a little too… pointless and hollow. Essentially boiling down to a flashy ride to nowhere.
05 August 2022
The Scene To Look Out For:
The editing hops around a lot, in what is quickly becoming a distinct style choice for these kinds of esoteric releases. But I think that’s to be expected, given the overall tone. However it does mean so many events and moments trail off and never really go anywhere. I could easily reel off plenty of exchanges and interactions that were memorable but following those threads to something of substance, can be frustrating. So instead, I’ll highlight the fight choreography. Unsurprisingly, given Leitch’s transition from the world stunt-work, the fights are all very clear, engaging and fun to watch.
The cameos became a joke in and of themselves. The cast is already huge and sprawling, with a handful of key characters only being on-screen for a few moments. But then we also get a plethora of cameos and the quantity alone, ends up robbing these surprise appearances of their significance. Especially when the single joke they’re wheeled out for, fizzles.
“He doesn’t need a reason to kill people like you, he needs a reason not to”
In A Few Words:
“Raucous, frivolous and, unfortunately, little else”
Total Score: 2/5