Written by: Zak Olkewicz
Starring: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji
When a constant deluge of negative things happens in life, one can find themselves believing they are the unluckiest person in the world. Any such run for anyone could be highly contested by the sequence of events in Bullet Train, an overly silly film, but one that knows exactly what it provides and succeeds in that area incredibly. All style and minimal substance but when that style is infectiously fun, it becomes hard to begrudge it.
Wanting to get away from brutally killing people as a hitman, Ladybug (Brad Pitt) gets provided a mission where he needs to steal a suitcase on the Japanese bullet train. When he retrieves it, he finds himself in the middle of something much larger and more dangerous than he ever could have expected, leaving him dumbfounded at his lack of luck.
Hyper-stylized in its presentation and bundles of fun, this feature sets to be nothing more than an entertaining ride and this film accomplishes that with leaps and bounds. It all starts with the setting of it taking place on one of Japan’s famous bullet trains. A confined space with various killers aboard and we have a protagonist who would prefer to not get violent but will need to if he has to protect himself. We go on this journey with Ladybug as new characters enter the playing board and with some exiting just as quickly as they arrive. It makes for various cameos that each leave their mark and it makes for such an entertaining ride.
Most of these villains have their specialties in the feature but the greatest of them proves to be the hilarious duo of Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry). The two initial adversaries for Ladybug and his job in attaining the briefcase, the tone they add to the film is both comedic and also unexpectedly in the emotional realm. Their rapport in this feature and the way they combat Ladybug makes for so many incredibly fun moments and it shows how funny Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry can be. The recurring joke about Thomas the Tank Engine characters got me every single time and it continues to add to what makes them unique amongst the various other villains integrated into the story.
Much of the combat occurring in the feature happens in close quarters by virtue of them being on a train and it allows David Leitch the opportunity to flex his skills as a director of action films after breaking out immensely with John Wick. The fight choreography looks polished and it matches the absurd and colorful palette the film embodies. It works around the physical limitations of Brad Pitt well and allows others like Bad Bunny to show off the choreography they need to perform.
Where the film can face criticism comes from its story and the thinness of the characters. Ladybug, by nature of the screenplay, is a character to whom we have nothing to emotionally tether. The same can be said for all of the characters bar Lemon and Tangerine. They mostly feel like chess pieces being moved and we receive nothing to truly care for throughout the feature when it comes to the protagonist. Sure, it can be said that aspect comes from Andrew Koji’s character but even that does not materialize into something substantive. The most these characters get for backstory comes from a quick montage showing what led them to this moment on the train with Ladybug. The backstory gets received but it does not allow for any substantive character growth.
With all of that being said, this film more than makes up for those deficiencies with everything else it accomplishes in world-building. It all comes together as a culmination of what awaits them at the final stop of the train. The train in a way represents the movement of the plot and how quickly things move from one fight to another and yet another revelation being revealed to add more context to everything going on. By the time we arrive at the final stop and a showdown for the ages, the chips are set and it makes for something quite epic and rightfully serves as the apex of the action on display.
Bullet Train exists for one purpose, to entertain and be absolutely ridiculous in the process; It has absolutely no seriousness or real sense of weight but it does everything it needs to do to make up for it. Sure, some of the adversaries could have received more time in the spotlight and some of the actors could be said to be wasted in their limited time but they all serve this larger plot happening around them and the journey of enlightenment Ladybug is trying to understand while also attempting to survive this ridiculous situation he has found himself in yet again.