Bullet Train (2022) Review
CHAOTIC ACTION RANDOMNESS
Director David Letich has bult a special niche career for full-throttle action motion pictures, finding hardcore (and sometimes relentless) chaotic thrills and bloody violence engaging enough for a non-stop cinematic treatment. First appearing in the major mainstream movie realm on the 2014 film John Wick (of which he co-directed with Chad Stahelski), Letich proved that his special affinity towards frenetic violence and mostly uninterrupted action blockbuster flourishes, which prompted the director to go forth and helm his own project solely. This includes the double spy agent duplicity during the eve of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 2017’s Atomic Blonde, the superhero sequel of the foul mouth and hilarious “merc with a mouth” in 2018’s Deadpool 2, and the high octane and over-the-top adrenaline frivolities in the 2019 Fast and Furious spin-off project titled Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. Now, Sony / Columbia Pictures and director David Leitch gears up for another action thriller for his latest film in the movie Bullet Train. Is this escapade of violent and action extravaganza worth boarding or should a viewer not get on this excessive and messy train?
Codenamed Ladybug (Brad Pitt) accepts a simple “snatch and grab” assignment when one of his colleagues can’t perform the duty, boarding a bullet train on its way to Kyoto, on the hunt for a special briefcase containing something of value to his handler, Beetle (Sandra Bullock). Preparing to complete his mission and about to get off at the next station, Ladybug is intercepted by The Wolf (Bad Bunny), a Mexican cartel hitman seeking revenge, the Ladybug doesn’t know why he’s after him. Elsewhere on the train, brother / assassins Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), who are escorting a man (Logan Lerman) on the train, who was recently rescued by the pair along with the briefcase that Ladybug is after, while The Prince (Joey King) is trying to make life miserable for Yuichi (Andrew Koji), putting his child in the hospital to urge the song of The Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada) into action. As Ladybug encounters and battles these enemy assassins on the high speeding train, he openly begins to wonder what he’s gotten himself into, learning more about the dangerous man known as the White Death (Michael Shannon), who awaits them all at the last stop.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
While I do appreciate and like a wide variety of movie genres out there, the action genre has been a somewhat of an interest to me. Growing up in the 90s, the era of gritty of action movies were bountiful and plenty, which garnished my attachment and attraction towards these type of films throughout the years. Thus, it would come to no surprise that I would like Leitch’s work and the features that he’s been involved in. Perhaps the weakest entry (in my opinion) would be his first outing (as director) in the first John Wick movie. Of that franchise, the 2014 film (of which Leitch co-directed) was probably my least favorite. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the second and third John Wick movies, but the first one was bit “okay-ish” and far more toned down than the cinematic and stylish endeavors of the other two sequels. From his first solo directorial debut, Letich proved to be a capable director with the accomplish of 2017’s Atomic Blonde, which blended nuances of violent action and history backdrop. It was actually pretty good and definitely a good start for a Leitch as a director debut for his own feature film. His next outing as a director was Deadpool 2, which was actually pretty good and kept up with his own unique style of action and violence as well as adhering to the visual flair and tone of the previous installment. It wasn’t as good as the first one, but Leitch made a solid follow-up adventure with the “merc with the mouth”. After that, Letich decided to head into the foray of fast cars and ridiculous “over-the-top” adrenaline thrills with Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw. Given his attraction towards the action flair, Leitch seems right at home with this particular film with high-octane frivolities, nonsensical action moments, and larger-than-life heroics. Yes, the movie did have its problems, but it was still quite a fun ride and easily fit right along side the main narrative thread of the Fast and Furious franchise. Overall, while not quite the top-billed nor the most recognizable household name of film directors out there, David Leitch still manages to quite a capable and effective director, especially in the niche category of high-pounding action endeavors.
Naturally, this brings me back around to talking about Bullet Train, a 2022 action feature and the latest film by director David Leitch. To be honest, I don’t really much recall hearing about this movie when it was first announced. I think I do recall hearing about actor Brad Pitt doing a movie with Leitch, but it was just in passing and didn’t hear much about it after that. It wasn’t until I saw the film’s movie trailer during the “coming attractions” preview during the summertime when I went to my weekly movie theater outing that I actually got interested in seeing the upcoming project. In truth, I remember seeing the film’s movie trailer loads of time when I went to the movies, which definitely showcases a sense of chaotic action running throughout the preview. That was basically my initially premise for the movie and it definitely look like that, but I was kind of interested to see where the film would go with the narrative. I vaguely heard about the movie was being based off of novel of a series, but I really didn’t pay much attention to that notion. I do like Brad Pitt, and it was nice to see him in a film that (for all tense and purpose) was going to a be silly action that had definitely had splashes of Leitch’s work as well as the craziness flourish of a Quentin Tarantino endeavor. Thus, I was definitely interested to see what Bullet Train had to offer and was planning on seeing the feature when it was scheduled to be released on August 5th, 2022. Unfortunately, due to my work schedule, I was unable to see Bullet Train during its theatrical run and ended up waiting for it to be released digital a few months after that. In addition, I did have to wait further to get my review done for this movie as I had to complete a few other ones that was playing “catch up” with before getting my review done for this one. Thankfully, I got through them all and ready to share my personal thoughts on this action movie? And what did I think of it? Well, I was kind of surprise how much I liked it. Despite a few problems within the feature’s nuances and execution, Bullet Train is a wild and chaotic train ride that delivers on its premise of high-action thrills and even higher laughs. The movie isn’t the absolute best in Letich’s arsenal, yet it seems manages to make for some good action violence popcorn flick that’s both fun and entertaining to watch.
As to be expected, Leitch is in the driver’s directorial seat for Bullet Train, with the director approaching the source material with same type of frenzy energy and chaotic madness that he had previously done with Hobbs & Shaw. And that’s not a bad thing in this case, with the director showcasing plenty of action nuances throughout the feature for a “wild ride” endeavor from beginning to end. In that regard, I think that Leitch does a commendable job in helming this particular project. Of course, I can’t say what was changed, added, or omitted from the original literary material, but Leitch certainly knows how to create a very stylish and unique film in bringing the source material to life in a very creative and cinematic way that’s both fun and stylish. There is an “over the top” feeling throughout the movie and Leitch definitely keeps that in the forefront of Bullet Train’s focus…. whether that is through its action, comedy, or just its storytelling sequences. For the most part, the story in Bullet Train is kept quite simplistic in nature, which is both good and bad (more on that below) yet is able to keep all the various character narrative threads tie together and culminates in a flashy (and utterly zany) final showdown sequence. Of course, I sort of knew that this was going to be the case, so no of this particular bothered me. In fact, I quite enjoyed it, for the character themselves (and the acting talent involved) shine throughout and certainly make up for the lack of substance in the story. To be sure, there is a story in the feature, yet it all feels loosely connected as Leitch focuses more on the character interaction and action scenes, which is something he usually does within his past endeavors. Thus, it speaks the director’s signature quality and makes for a very hyper-active endeavor that is filled fast-talking / larger-than-life characters and flashy movements of action scenes.
Perhaps the most fun I had while watching Bullet Train is the feature’s comedy. Yes, of course, the action sequences are quite fun and creatively executed, but the comedic aspect that it used in the movie is utterly hilarious, especially since the acting talent behind these moments of levity elevate the written material that is given. Naturally, the comedy angle works because of some of the bizarre (and almost surreal) situations that occur in Bullet Train are both completely bonkers at times and utterly random at other points. It’s the clash of action and comedy that makes these scenes work humorous well, especially since most of the spoken dialogue comes across as “back and forth” banter amongst characters and creates some unique situations that are both funny and entertaining. I absolutely love the whole “Thomas the Tank Engine” running gag with the character of “Lemon”. I died laughing when it heard it! This also implies to the physical jokes and gags that are scattered throughout movie, with chaotic mayhem of random things happen makes for some create visual and uproarious sequences that make the feature so-called “light on its toes”, despite the feature having a more tense scenes of action and violence.
Of course, this leans into the movie’s actions scenes of which Leitch shines through the usage of the random situations that the various characters find themselves in by squaring off against one another in some utterly surreal components. This is where Leitch’s “bread and butter” comes into play by providing a great set piece of utilizing the train’s confined compartments and areas to create some fun and slick action scenes that are effective in each provided fight. As to be expected, these scenes are frenetic and full of cinematic energy as well as the some goofy bloody / violence nuances, yet that is to be expected. Of course, one might have to suspend their disbelief in a few key points, yet the action still manages to highly enjoyable and helps raise the stakes for the entire motion picture. Fast paced and fully of intense violence, Bullet Train’s action definitely speaks for itself in a very fun way. All in all, I think that Leitch did a great job with Bullet Train, shaping a feature that is filled colorful characters and zippy energy as well as filling the brim with mayhem comedy and cinematic action-violence, conjuring up a recipe for popcorn entertainment.
For its presentation, Bullet Train looks solid throughout its production, with the film’s visual look and flair being quite the “eye candy” from onset to conclusion. Naturally, with the movie’s primary setting being located on a highspeed “bullet train” in Japan, most of the feature’s nuances are confined to the interiors of the various cars that are on the train, which (of course) plays as the main set pieces for most of the characters. Yet, the background setting for these various train cars is still vibrant and detailed, with each having their own distinct personality through set decorations as well as lightning. Even beyond those points, the shots taking outside the actual “bullet train” are still quite appeal and having the neon-colored induced extravaganza that is customary in Japan’s visual city life. Thus, everything throughout the is quite the “eye-catching” piece and comes alive whenever on-screen in brightness and playfulness. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” main players, including Richard Bloom, Chris Farmer, and Nicolas Plotquin (art direction team), David Scheunemann (production design), Elizabeth Keenan (set decorations), and Sarah Evelyn (costume designs) should receive high commendable marks for their efforts on Bullet Train, which certainly do help the movie “pop” throughout the entire endeavor. Speaking of “popping”, the movie’s cinematography work by Jonathan Sela should also receive recognition for his work on the feature, which captures some nifty and slick cinematic moments in and out of the film, with some usage of creative camera angles and lightning / shadowing. In short, top marks for the feature’s presentation.
Lastly, while the film’s score, which was composed by Dominic Lewis, delivers a solid presentation throughout the entire endeavor (big kudos for a good soundtrack to Lewis), the real “star power” of the movie’s musical composition is found in the song selection that are featured in Bullet Train. Much like Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2, Leitch and his team mix some great musical talent into the feature’s background presentation, with artists to tap into their original tracks as well as covers and rearranged mixes. Of course, this notion plays up of drumming up humorous bits and dramatic moments is fully utilized and is intergraded in way that is quite fun throughout the feature’s story and character progression. All in all, good job for the song selection in the feature.
There are a few parts of Bullet Train that I do have to draw criticism towards that, while not derailing the feature in any way from my personal attraction towards the film, feel a bit of a distraction from the overall storyboarding / execution of the endeavor. Perhaps the most notable one is how loosely connected some of the storytelling elements. Of course, this sort of goes “hand in hand” with the main crux of the feature, with the climax of Bullet Train leading viewers towards something that tries to tie all the events together. Yet, while that may be the case, it does leave a lot to be desired, especially since there are so many different characters that movie in and out of the feature, with some only having a few minutes to be presented and then quickly dismissed after that. Naturally, the movie’s script clearly wants to have a layered and intertwined narrative at work, especially since its source material, yet there is something about how much that easily could’ve been explored, with the final edit of the movie feeling a bit limp in the actual plot.
This also brings up the film’s script handling, which was penned by Zak Olkewicz and adapted from Isaka’s novel, and how the story being told gets a bit caught up unto itself a bit too much. Despite the multi-layer story of all the various players in the film, the main crux of Bullet Train could’ve definitely been better handled (as mentioned above) and the screenplay for the movie clearly shows that the movie needs some better material given to them. Yes, I did love a lot of the “back and forth” talking banter that runs throughout the entire endeavor, yet it gets a bit excessive and sometimes mundane. Having characters talk for lengthy periods, fight for scene, and then back to talking with another set of characters, back to fighting for one more scene and so on and so forth. There are times where the movie is almost on autopilot and Leitch is letting his cast (good as they are) having their own fun with their characters, which can be good, but the story does seem like there could’ve been way more explored and examined within all of their backstories, personalities, and even the main focus. Another criticism that I found was in the film’s pacing. While I did mostly enjoy the feature from start to finish, there are plenty of parts where the movie’s pacing becomes an issue, especially since the runtime for the project clocks in at around 127 minutes (two hours and seven minutes). There’s clearly a lot to unpack in this action feature and sometimes not everything gets covered the right way, with either too much focus one thing or not enough time on another. Thus, the movie hits several pacing snags along the way, which makes Bullet Train have a longer feeling that it should be.
The cast in Bullet Train definitely helps elevate those points of criticisms to make for some memorable players throughout the feature. Of course, the film’s thinly sketched character development can be a bit messy (as mentioned above) in a few areas, including key ones, but the selected acting talent for this particular project bring their “A” game for some zany, silly, and sometimes “over-the-top” characters that are indeed memorable. Perhaps the best example of this would be actor Brad Pitt, who plays the main protagonist assassin character codenamed Ladybug. Pitt, who is known for his roles in Fight Club, Meet Joe Black, and Ocean’s Eleven, has certainly made a name for himself throughout his career, establishing his credibility in the leading role through a wide variety of feature films. Yet, Pitt has been known on occasion to partake in some more “silly” endeavor rather than the straight-up dramatic motion pictures, with his participation in Bullet Train being the former. True enough, Pitt’s screen presence in the film definitely works and does indeed hold the feature by doing the heavy lifting throughout most of the production….and that’s a good thing. Pitt is up to the task and does a great and humorous job at playing “Ladybug” and brings his usual type charisma and swagger to the proceedings, which is wonderful. It’s clear that he’s having fun in the movie and he makes for a fun iteration of the character of “Ladybug”, especially seeing him (as his character) getting caught up in some wacky randomness that happen on the train (characters he meets and scenarios he finds himself in). As for what was written as “Ladybug”, the script gives some humor in his character by having him to find “inner peace” in amongst the wild and crazy violent situation that he finds himself. There possibly could’ve had more substance in his backstory, but what’s presented works. In the end, despite whether you like the movie or not, Pitt’s involvement in Bullet Train is indeed a welcome and, while it may not be his most illustrious character he’s played in his career, his portrayal of “Ladybug” is an entertaining one.
As a sidenote, actress Sandra Bullock (The Heat and The Blind Slide) make for a fun cameo-like appearance in the movie as “Beetle”, “Ladybugs” handler who is in contact with him throughout most of his time on the high-speed train. While Bullock is mostly “off-screen” in the movie (only using her audio voice), her remarks and banter between Pitt’s “Ladybug” is quite amusing and you can easily tell that the two acting talents are having fun.
Of course, a lot of the other characters in Bullet Train interweave in and around Pitt’s “Ladybug” character, so let’s examine them all by starting the two groups of characters. First, there is the two assassins “Lemon” and “Tangerine”, who are played by actors Brian Tyree Henry (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Eternals) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Avengers: Age of Ultron and Anna Karenina). Together, this two particular characters are quite fun from the get-go, with Henry and Taylor-Johnson having loads of fun playing “Lemon” and “Tangerine” and have the most usage of the constant “back-and-forth” banter. Basically, most of their scenes involve these two characters exchanged words and quips with each other and, while that might sound boring for some, it was some of the most hilarious dialogue moments in Bullet Train. One can easily tell that the pair are ad-libbing their scenes and just have fun with it. That’s not to say that the presence in the feature is just crass talking remarks, with both “Lemon” and “Tangerine have their fair share of action scenes amongst the film’s other characters as well as little backstory in their brotherly relationship. All in all, I loved these two characters and definitely some humorous flair into the mix of all the action and violence that Bullet Train had to offer.
The second grouping of characters would be in the characters of “The Prince” and “The Father” (Yulichi Kimura), who are played by actress Joey King (The Conjuring and The Kissing Booth) and actor Andrew Koji (Snake Eyes and Luck). Like “Lemon” and “Tangerine”, these two characters have plenty of interactions with each other, yet “The Prince” and “The Father” have more of the classic “cat and mouse” manipulation conversations, which does play into the main plot of the feature….more so than any other characters involved. Thus, their scenes are quite paramount to the main narrative thread (again, more so than “Ladybug”), with King and Koji playing to their strengths and giving their respective characters some type of substance, despite all the nonsensical situations that are going on around them on the train. Behind them, actors Hiroyuki Sanada (Mortal Kombat and The Wolverine) and Michael Shannon (Man of Steel and Boardwalk Empire) make for some of the more compelling secondary supporting characters in the film as “The Elder”, Kimura’s father, and the White Death, a Russian boss who took over the Yakuza empire. Both Sanada and Shannon acts as the more “seasoned” actors in the movie and, while there screen-time isn’t as much as the characters mentioned above, their involvement in Bullet Train is indeed a welcome and it’s clear that both are enjoying playing their respective roles….regardless if they’re a bit “over-the-top”.
Other cast members, including actor Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and The Perks of Being a Wallflower) as the White Death’s wayward son (simply known as “The Son”), actress Zazie Beetz (Deadpool 2 and Joker) as the poisonous assassin known as “The Hornet”, actor Benito Antonio Martinez Occasion / Bad Bunny (Narcos: Mexico and F9: The Fast Saga) as the Mexican assassin and former kingpin of the drug cartel known as “The White Wolf”, actor Masi Oka (Heroes and The Meg) as the train conductor, actress Karen Fukuhara (Suicide Squad and The Boys) as the train concession girl named Kayda Izumi, and young actor Kevin Akiyoshi Ching, who makes you his theatrical debut in the movie as Yuichi Kimura’s son Wataru, make up the minor supporting players in the movie. A few of these people possibly could’ve been expanded upon a bit more throughout the movie, yet the acting talent who make these characters are pretty good and help elevate their screen-time with some memorable roles. Lastly, there are a few other cameos that make an appearance throughout the movie. I won’t spoil for they are, but just be on the lookout for them. Also, I forgot to mention there is also a small Easter Egg scene during the mid-credits portion of the feature’s end credits roll and I thought it was pretty funny. So, be sure to stick around for that one as well.
While trying to get back into the game and getting over his previous back luck, the assassin known as “Ladybug” takes a mission for a simple “snatch and grab” job on a train that goes terrible awry, pitting him against other hitmen assassins and get entangled into something far worse than he realizes in the movie Bullet Train. Director David Leitch’s latest film takes the second novel of Isaka’s Hitman trilogy (Maria Beetle) and translates the source material narrative for a more Americanized endeavor that is filled with bloody violence action and some witty comedy. While the feature does struggle with its vague notions of loosely connected plot, character balance, and a few pacing issues, the movie still rises to the challenge and can overcome some of those plots, especially thanks to Letich’s direction (style and nuances), a vibrant presentation, some hilarious comedic moments, frenetic stylish action, and some great moments throughout the ensemble cast (most notable Pitt, Henry, Taylor-Johnson). Personally, I liked this movie. Yes, there were a few problems that I had with the movie, but I felt that the feature was pretty action fun…..something along the lines of the ridiculous nature of a Fast and Furious installment (the latter ones), yet in a good way. It was nonsensical and a “ball-to-walls” crazy at times and purely hilarious at other times. The characters were tad a thinly sketched (as well as the story in a few areas), but what was presented worked purely on the total randomness and just a good “over-the-top” action set pieces that was enjoyable and entertaining. Plus, I did love the cast! Thus, my recommendation for the movie is a sincere “recommended” one for those out there who are looking for a movie that, while may not challenge a viewer’s expectations or poignant meaning, still provides plenty of action, violence, and a hair-razing train ride experience. In the end, Bullet Train isn’t the most creative take on action movies, but Letich’s talent are put to good use in this endeavor; creating a feature that’s runs chaotic action, larger-than-life characters, and some zany randomness for adrenaline blockbuster escapism.
4.1 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: August 5th, 2022
Reviewed On: December 9th, 2022
Bullet Train is 126 minutes long and is rated R for strong and bloody violence, pervasive language, and brief sexuality