HomeMoviesReview: Bullet Train is Overstuffed, but Never Bores

Review: Bullet Train is Overstuffed, but Never Bores

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brad Pitt in BULLET TRAIN
Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Director David Leitch has quickly become a rising force in the action genre. He’s an uncredited co-founder of John Wick, has helmed original action flicks like Atomic Blonde, and worked within big franchises like Fast and Furious and Deadpool. Now, Leitch takes his own stab at an ensemble action comedy with Bullet Train.

Based on Kotaro Isaka’s novel of the same name, the film takes viewers onto a fast-moving Japanese bullet train filled with an eclectic assortment of assassins who are there to perform their own missions but are also connected to a metal briefcase and a hidden revenge agenda. Bullet Train is very much the kind of ensemble mystery film that’s akin to Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and Drew Goddard’s Bad Times at the El Royale. Within its singular setting, Bullet Train presents a story rich with details and personality that comes together in a tantalizing mystery that only becomes more enthralling as you learn the truth. Detailed storytelling is a key ingredient that makes films like these so much fun, and Bullet Train certainly has strong details.

It’s super impressive to see how no stone is left unturned when it comes to all the characters, stories, and moments presented. Literally every character plays a unique role in the film’s larger mystery–even after they’ve bit the dust–and some of their personal quirks add to the storytelling. The idea of lead assassin Ladybug (Brad Pitt) constantly dealing with terrible luck on his missions and recently finding peace within himself leads to some great comedy and some interesting ways of him getting closer to the truth. Even Lemon (Bryan Tyree Henry) having a Thomas the Tank Engine obsession plays an interesting role in how he reads people and it leads to some funny but also eye-opening moments. However, Leitch and writer Zak Olkewicz’s emphasis on detail can be part of the film’s undoing.

There are so many details being thrown at you throughout Bullet Train, you feel like your head is going to explode. With the way the film naturally answers looming questions throughout, you do slowly start to feel a sense of relief as the film leads to its climax. However, Bullet Train’s start can be really rough to connect with, as it throws a lot of characters, personality, and story at you without much context or understanding of their importance. Even as someone who eventually loved Lemon’s Thomas the Tank Engine love, it did originally come off as just bizarre because of how little context there was behind it. There are also some story bits and cutaways that are unnecessary, as they just overstuff the runtime without providing anything too consequential to the story. Sure, it’s funny to watch Lemon and his twin partner Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) debate about their kill count through a Deadpool-like action scene and Leitch dedicates a story segment to the journey of a water bottle, but they could’ve easily been cut out and nothing would be missed.

Stylistically, it’s also a shame that Bullet Train just feels like it’s riffing on a Tarantino ensemble film or Deadpool-style comedy without providing much new. The weirdly specific quirks and conversations as well as the overly clever storytelling feel right out of those playbooks, and it would’ve been nice to see Leitch’s direction take a more unique stance since we know that he can bring something truly unique. Bullet Train can certainly feel a little too familiar to past ensemble epics and even Leitch’s past works, yet it’s still a total blast.

Where Leitch’s direction does make a big impression is in Bullet Train’s action, as it’s an action-packed thrill ride that continually ramps up the speed. Leitch utilizes the environment well to create dynamic and thrilling fights that keep you engaged. Although it’s all contained inside of a tight bullet train, Leitch shows off some strong creativity in hand-to-hand combat that makes Bullet Train another colorful feather in his cap. Not to mention, the insanity of the explosively epic finale defines cinema-caliber action and offers a bloody good time that can’t be missed.

Even though it treads a little too close to familiar territory, Bullet Train provides some great laughs through its characters and performances, namely Pitt. Henry, Taylor-Johnson, and really the entire cast are great, but Pitt is truly at his best showing some great action charm and hilarious goofiness that’s a treat for all audiences. He totally plays into Ladybug’s bad luck incredibly well and Ladybug’s failed attempts to get off the train are a total joy. Even for some of the bloated nature of the detailed story, Bullet Train remains captivating with how great its reveals are and it only gets better as it goes on. Its introduction might be rough, but as the pieces start to come together, you become more hooked by its unfolding mystery, which also provides some big surprise cameos and reveals that audiences will love as well as a great character-driven narrative with immensely satisfying conclusions.

Bullet Train certainly shows its weakness with its overly familiar style and over-abundance of details that drag it down, but it is almost always able to overcome them. Leitch’s incredible vision for action and a great cast and story provide an action-comedy thrill ride fitting worthy of capping off the summer movie season.

Bullet Train is now playing in theaters.

Tom Moore
Tom Moorehttps://mooreviews.com/
Tom is always ready to see and review everything horrifying and hilarious that hits theaters, television, and video games...sometimes. You can check out his other reviews and articles on his blog, Mooreviews.

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