Bullet Train is a hodgepodge of action crime thrillers from the last 30 years. David Leitch, who is a former stunt performer and coordinator grew up during the era of 1980s action movies and the 1990s gritty crime movies, so it’s natural he would combine both. He produced and unofficially directed with Chad Stahelski on the first John Wick movie. His resume as director includes the thrilly Atomic Blonde, the wonderful Deadpool 2 and that whatever that Fast and Furious spinoff Hobbs & Shaw was supposed to be.
I sat behind a guy on a flight from Tulsa to Atlanta who watched this movie on his smart phone. It was obviously put in motion because of all the contract disputes that arose amongst the cast so the Universal could keep the movie on the public’s mind. I’m not really sure I remember much about that movie even though I watched it. I remember Atomic Blonde and I remember Deadpool 2. But in the world of blockbusters, they all seem to look the same it reminds me of the South Park episode where the manatees push balls to determine the Family Guy jokes.
Leitch also produced the impressive Nobody which made us believe that Bob Odenkirk can be a badass killer not to be messed with. And now, he’s made Bullet Train, based on Maria Beetle, a manga written by Kotaro Isaka. While there has been some issues over whitewashing in the casting, the movie still works because you’re not really expecting much. Tokyo is so big of a major city that it’s very possible that someone like Brad Pitt or Brian Tyree Henry is just in town visiting.
The movie is set mostly on a bullet train that departs Tokyo on its way to its final destination in Kyoto. Pitt plays an operative going by the name “Ladybug” covering for a sick co-worker and guided mostly my phone calls from Maria (Sandra Bullock). Ladybug has had a lot of bad luck but is going through a calmer existenstial peaceful outlook on life. He is to collect a suitcase from the train and get off at the next station. A running gag is that he is constantly either missing the door by a second or getting off but having to get back on.
Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson play “Lemon” and “Tangarine,” two orphaned friends who grew up together considered the twins but they are a group of violent killers who have been tasked with kidnapping the son (Logan Lerman) of a Japanese crime lord called The White Death (Michael Shannon). The White Death is a Russian who took over a Japanese crime outfit. Shortly after they have him kidnapped, they discover that the Son has been killed. They are also in possession of the briefcase that Ladybug is trying to get off the train.
There’s also Yuichi Kimura (Andrew Koji), a Yakuza member, who has boarded the train to track down the person who pushed his young son off a building hospitalizing him. Yuichi comes into contact with The Prince (Joey King), a young assassin who dresses like a school girl and uses her child-like charm to manipulate people. The Prince is dressed up like an anime character but she is seeking vengeance on The White Death.
All characters keep interacting with each other and the movie is told in a non-linear fashion with multiple flashbacks that reveal more about the characters including The Killer (Benito A. Martinez Ocasio aka Bad Bunny) who is out for revenge. And then there’s The Hornet (Zazie Beets) who is also on the train under a disguise. To say anymore about the cast or the plot would give too much away.
What I can say is you can expect a lot of fights, a lot of gunplay, a lot of characters who appear dead but aren’t, a lot of double-crosses and a lot of plot reveals that don’t seem as believable as they should. It’s not a great movie mainly because it’s all been done before. But Leitch adds a certain style to the movie that makes it enjoyable even though you may not remember much of it later.
It’s been 30 years since Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and almost 25 years since Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels became favorites of young nihilistic viewers. I can imagine someone on a plane watching either of those two movies they have downloaded to their phone. Every movie speaks to a certain audience member. These are for people who want to see action and machismo and not much else. I liked Reservoir Dogs but not as much Two Smoking Barrels. Both Tarantino and Ritchie seemed to be influenced by the Hong Kong action flicks by John Woo, Ringo Lam and Tsui Hark. And Leitch seems to be infuenced by Tarantino and Ritchie. And in 20-25 years, he will be the source of influence for a new set of filmmakers. And so on and so on.
That being said, would I watch this movie again? Sure. Why not. It’s two hours of mindless entertainment. And there’s a little bit of humor here and there that works. I actually liked Ladybug is a character that chooses not to take a gun because he’s hoping to be more peaceful but finds himself in the middle of a bloodbath. There’s also a cameo by an actor that is surprising. There’s also a nice nod to Pitt’s very brief cameo in Deadpool 2 as Ryan Reynolds appears on screen for a few seconds like PItt did.
What do you think? Please comment.