Bullet Train Review
Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2 Director David Leitch brings his latest Action Comedy to the big screen with an International All-Star cast in Bullet Train.
Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Zazie Beetz, Bad Bunny, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, and Joey King all fight over a mysterious briefcase on a fast-moving train across Japan.
The Plot — Bullet Train
Brad Pitt is back! Pitt’s latest character, code name: “Lady Bug” looks to get back into the game with a simple job. Of course, ‘simple’ is a relative term.
Lady Bug is an assassin that doesn’t want to kill anybody, anymore. And, he leaves it up to his handler, Maria Beetle, played by Sandra Bullock to make that reality happen.
On the surface, it should be simple. Board a train in Tokyo, grab a briefcase with a sticker, and get off the train. What could possibly go wrong?
Lady Bug soon sees some familiar faces, now with fruit-themed code names. Twins Tangerine and Lemon, played by Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, are also on the train. Funnily enough, they too, are looking for the same briefcase.
The plot, as they say, soon thickens. A schoolgirl named ‘Prince’, played by Joey King; yet another assassin named Kimura, played by Andrew Koji; and yet, yet another, another assassin, this one a Mexican assassin named, Wolf, played by Bad Bunny; soon join the fun.
That’s a lot of assassins for one briefcase on one train.
We soon have assassins meeting, competing, and fighting each other for the briefcase, and many other things as the train inches ever closer to Kyoto.
The Good — Bullet Train
The Fight Scenes
Not surprisingly, a guy who directed the fight scenes in John Wick, Atomic Blonde, and Deadpool 2, comes up with a huge number of entertaining fight scenes in Bullet Train.
Lady Bug boards the train assuming it will be an easy job, so he leaves his gun behind. This leads to an entertaining fight involving the briefcase between Lady Bug and The Wolf; as well as others with Lemon, and later Tangerine.
Each fight has its own unique feel and energy, yet each doesn’t feel cramped or repetitive, despite being in the small, confined space of a train car. Each assassin has his or her own style of fighting and choice of weapon. And, each assassin has their own motivation and storyline behind each fight.
There’s a reason for each fight and each reason makes each fight have consequence and purpose in the film. As such, each fight jumps off the screen, and keeps the story moving as fast as the bullet train they’re on.
Also strong are the characters’ costumes and the Cinematography, creating a strong visual palette. Working hand in hand, with the fight choreography, the costumes and cinematography double down on the international and multicultural nature of the assassins from around the world.
Lady Bugs’ hat and glasses make him stand out from the Twins’ clearly British fashion sense, which in turn stands out from the flashy fashion sense of The Wolf, and the hiding in plain sight school girl outfit of Prince.
The Cinematography style keeps moving near constantly, especially through the numerous fight scenes. And often, the camera moves with the fighter/weapon as opposed to the fighter or weapon moving through the screen.
The Bad — Bullet Train
Oftentimes, part of the fun of a heist/mystery movie is seeing how the characters are related and/or how the story reveals those revelations.
Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino do this with great effect in their films, managing reveals as the story moves along to change how the audience perceives the characters and story itself.
However, David Leitch has so many character and story reveals in Bullet Train, the reveals lose importance as the film goes along. Add to this the film running at over two hours and feeling like it’s two and a half hours long, and the overly complex story and character relationships lose importance fairly early on.
The film never slows down long enough to let the audience focus on the story, or let the reveals sink in. Instead, the reveals come so quickly and consistently, we just get a feeling of chaos and lack of importance.
Leitch doesn’t pick and choose the reveals, he simply throws all of them at the screen, and lets the viewers decide. Also, because the film is so long, and lacks well defined characters, there isn’t much of a consistent story arc, either.
Lack Of Character Depth
Part of the challenge of having so many mysterious characters is managing what we know about characters, and/or how we even care about their plights. The lack of well defined characters makes the story feel like it’s lagging behind, even as the story is actually speeding up.
Because we don’t get enough character depth, we don’t care about them or what they are going through. Oddly, this goes against the clearly defined character costumes and fighting styles, making for several awkward moments during and after character reveals.
We see so many well designed characters on the outside that are merely skin deep on the inside. This is not to say the characters are shallow, it’s simply that they are poorly defined. And, when a major reveal about a character should have an impact, no impact is felt because due to Leitch failing to establish the character in the first place.
The Review — Bullet Train
Director David Leitch’s adaptation of Kotako Isaka’s novel ‘Maria Beetle’ has plenty of style and action, but lacks the substance and character development to care about the outcome of the story.
The action and comedy elements are fun, but ultimately don’t impact as much as they should due to largely hollow characters. That is despite good casting and costume designs, and well thought out action/fight scenes.
The extreme number of character and story reveals takes away any real impact due to never letting the dust settle after the reveal, before the next one happens. It’s sort of like lying on a bed of nails versus stepping on a single nail — when the weight is spread out over hundreds, the impact isn’t felt.
The action and comedy scenes are well designed and executed well, each fight feeling like something wholly unique, and not feeling cramped or repetitive. Costumes and fight cinematography work well in the action scenes, but ultimately feel wasted due to how poorly defined the characters themselves are defined.
The film’s long runtime feels 30 minutes longer than it is, when it should’ve been 30 minutes shorter than it is. The film’s fast and unrelenting pace actually works against itself over the 126 minute runtime. It makes it feel like it’s dragging in the second hour of the film, when they are trying to do the exact opposite.
Visually stunning, but ultimately lacking substance, Bullet Train fails to match the quality of Leitch’s other action comedies.
At most see a matinee. Not worth the full cost of a ticket.
Two Stars out of Five.