For some people (including me), Bullet Train is the perfect summer movie. There’s literally never a dull moment, it’s got a great (and exceedingly good-looking) cast and a groovy, unique soundtrack, there are (a LOT of) crazy-entertaining hand-to-hand combat scenes, and it’s also surprisingly funny. Another thing it has that I usually don’t like is lots and lots of violence. But that didn’t bother me in Bullet Train because this movie is purposely over the top, which means excessively cartoonish and bloody deaths for several characters, and a deliberately absurd finale sequence with some embarrassingly clunky CGI as the cherry on top. Either you’ll get it and love it or you won’t. I loved it.
Its director, David Leitch, is no stranger to fast-paced, action-heavy, and at least partially ridiculous films. In addition to serving as Brad Pitt’s stunt double in 5 movies, he co-directed John Wick (uncredited) and directed Deadpool 2 and Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. Think lighter and sillier than Tarantino, but still stylistic and inventive like Guy Ritchie.
Aside from context-setting flashbacks for each of the main and seemingly “bad” characters, which quickly endear them to the audience and establish backstories and motives, the action takes place entirely on a Japanese bullet train headed to Kyoto. On board—reluctantly—is Ladybug (Brad Pitt), an assassin who’s embraced therapy and likes to impart his wisdom on whoever will listen. He’s being fed instructions over the phone by Maria Beetle (Sandra Bullock): she wants him to steal a briefcase and then get off the train. Ladybug thinks it all sounds too simple, and he’s right.
It quickly becomes clear that there are several other assassins on board—some who also want the briefcase, and others who want revenge on various other train passengers. My favorites were Tangerine and Lemon (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry), “twins” who are constantly bickering. Their squabbles usually revolve around their lame codenames or Lemon’s obsession with the life lessons he’s learned from the British cartoon “Thomas the Tank Engine.” Their shtick seemed forced at the start, but as the movie went on it grew on me, especially because both their codenames and Thomas end up coming back in surprising ways by the end. On that note, make sure you stay through the first set of end credits for a final key scene!
Other characters include The Wolf (Bad Bunny), The Prince (Joey King), The Father (Andrew Koji), The Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada) and a few others codenamed The Hornet and White Death whose identities I won’t spoil. There are also some gut-busting cameos you might find worth the price of admission on their own.
Aside from a somber opening scene, Bullet Train will overload your senses for its entire running time, and for that reason it’s not for everyone. But if you’re a Brad Pitt fan, I can tell you that he seems to be having the time of his life in this movie. Actually, the entire cast seems to be having a ball. If you’re willing to check reality and your sanity at the door and relax and enjoy Bullet Train’s bombastic ride, you might not mind going off the rails with Ladybug, either.