Now that the summer blockbuster season is in full swing with more and more folks returning to their favorite cinemas safely, experiencing films how they’re intended to be seen in a crowded theater feels euphoric. The box office is coming off a July in which the films released during that month and months prior have collectively grossed over a billion dollars – something that hasn’t been accomplished since before lockdowns began in early 2020. With the franchise films out of their release windows, for now, original stories are at the forefront ready to be seen by the masses of people looking to share that opening night excitement of a star-studded film.
Rolling into the station is Bullet Train – a breakneck paced film, like the real-life counterpart, full of early Guy Ritchie Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels story progression mixed with John Wick stylized violence, based on the novel titled Maria Beetle by author Kōtarō Isaka and adapted by Zak Olkewicz. Add in an all-star ensemble cast from top to bottom with a few surprising cameos here and there and success is almost guaranteed, right? Ultimately, Bullet Train is a wild, chaotic ride from start to finish. Disjointed with a messy first half, director David Leitch of Atomic Blonde & Deadpool 2 fame course corrects to bring the train into the right station at the perfect speed.
All while adrenaline is pumped through the veins of characters surrounded by death and destruction.
Everything in between the first stop in Tokyo where codename Ladybug (Brad Pitt) gets on the bullet train to carry out his mission of collecting a briefcase with a blue train sticker on the handle and the last stop Kyoto goes completely south. Enter, chaos fueled action as the story shifts between different assassins being introduced, all making a play to snatch the same briefcase for selfish gain.
Like any old assassin flick, getting attached to any singular character is naive. Making the case for the detachment is a script that doesn’t hold any weight to it, characters are written as empty calories but watching them interact with one another ends up being the main draw.
Competing against the unlucky Ladybug to get the briefcase is a pair of twins named Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), The Prince (Joey King), The Wolf (Benito A. Martínez Ocasio), The Hornet (Zazie Beetz), Yuichi Kimura (Andrew Koji), and The Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada) Yuichi’s father.
Looking at the cast, all of whom turn in outstanding performances with Pitt leading the way. Having this amount of talent on screen together is only a strong argument for Leitch’s film. But its Brian Tyree Henry, who has come a long way since Atlanta as a force of nature and his twin Aaron Taylor-Johnson who command the spotlight and the viewers’ attention for the entirety of the 2-hour film. Without the charm, whit, emotional center, and comedic timing, Bullet Train wouldn’t of had the same impact if the twins weren’t there at all. If any two characters deserve a prequel, it’s Lemon and Tangerine – dynamic duo. Brian Tyree Henry’s Master of Fine Art degree from Yale comes in particularly handy given his character Lemon is British.
Throughout the entirety of the film, Lemon goes on wild tangents about a certain children’s toy and show that he justifies in judging others’ character. The humor of it lands every time due to Brian Tyree Henry’s timing. It’s brilliant work. Knowing Brian Tyree Henry is American, I never second guessed his accent, blond hair, or placement in the film. Wherever the talented actor pops up, he has my undivided attention.
Balancing the high-octane action that spills from scene to scene is a comedic undertone that hits on its notes when it needs to. Mostly coming from Pitt’s Ladybug when interacting with his handler Maria Beetle (Sandra Bullock) or adding the color commentary during a fight, depending on the viewer, the comedic dialogue will either hit high or fall flat on its face. Again, it’s all about balance. When the film begins to buckle under the weight of a lackluster narrative, the action sequences and comedy swoop in to save the day making Bullet Train a thrilling ride to be a part of. Better to go in knowing absolutely nothing regarding the premise or larger connected story as the brief and well-timed cameos are sure to illicit a resounding reaction.
I don’t mind not having the screenplay full of depth or the amount of world building the way a John Wick, or Nobodyhas either, Leitch’s direction and stylized vibrancy of color hooked me within the film’s opening moments. The type of film that encapsulates the definition of escapism, becoming fully invested in the sprinkles of Japanese film influence Leitch is inspired by. I only wish there was more Japanese mythology used but what we got is enough to satisfy a taste for it.
It may not break any ground with its shoot first, ask questions later approach but Bullet Train is still a fun and energetic time at the theater seen on the biggest screen possible. Though effects heavy, fast-paced, and full of controlled mayhem, the ensemble cast, action sequences and hints at Japanese mythology and lore deliver on the overly ambitious attempt at a rival shoot ‘em up to Leitch’s other projects. Style of substance but the style dazzles making a strong case for a franchise to bloom.
Screenplay By: Zak Olkewicz
Directed By: David Leitch
Music By: Dominic Lewis
Cinematography: Jonathan Sela
Starring: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Benito A Martínez Ocasio, Sandra Bullock, Zazie Beetz
Release Date: August 5, 2022
Running Time: 2 Hours 6 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 53%
Based On: Maria Beetle by Kōtarō Isaka