An initially smooth ride soon derailed by mindless spectacle and inconsequential action.
Bullet Train serves as the latest instalment in the questionable leg of Pitt’s character. Much like his Ad Astra character, he seems lost. Floating in space – trying to cling to the nearest piece of passing debris in an effort to ground himself once again. Is Bullet Train really the film that can thrust Pitt back into the spotlight? No. But is the film particularly bad? Meh. With such an established auteur like David Leitch at the helm, lauded for such works as Hobbs & Shaw and Deadpool 2, you really know what kind of journey Bullet Train will be. At times, the film excels through decent action sequences and quippy dialogue which manages to doubles down on an appropriately campy tone. At others, the film devolves into little more than mind numbing garbage.
The plot sees Pitt as Ladybug, an assassin who is instructed to retrieve a prized briefcase on board a bullet train bound from Tokyo to Kyoto. The thing is you see, the train is also stacked with a plethora of other eccentric assassin’s each with their own aims and vendettas. Ultimately, what seems to be a simple mission spirals into something much more chaotic. Through its first act, Bullet Train seemingly embraces this narratively simplicity to great pay off. The other characters onboard are intriguing enough with special acknowledgment going to the cockney combo of Lemon and Tangerine (Bryan Tyree Henry & Aaron Taylor-Johnson) whose quip-filled chemistry leads to some of the film’s best lines and recurring laughs – mostly anchored to references to Thomas The Tank Engine. Their interactions with Ladybug also result in some of the film’s greatest fight sequences which are both hilarious and creatively engaging.
Though the film bolsters an impressive ensemble, much of the remaining cast are each relegated to 5 minutes to shine before simply being swept away in time for the next big shot to have their moment in the spotlight. What results is Bullet Train feeling less of a cohesive title and more like a carousel for audiences to squark ‘Hey I know him/her!’ at. Particular offenders are that of Bad Bunny and Zazi Beats whose potential are cut far too short for their own good. In turn, the film too often blurs the lines between cast and cameo with, sometimes, the latter overshadowing the former whether intentional or not. Also, in terms of casting, the film’s Japanese representation can be described as a little concerning. Though Andrew Koji and Hiroyuki Sanada do fulfil important roles within the supporting cast with their father and son duo, the remaining Japanese characters are merely stripped to background figures with simple and often dumbfounded characteristics played out for audience laughs. Some characters, on the contrary, are given far too much screen time in comparison to others – with ‘some characters’ meaning exclusively Joey King’s Prince. Her role within the film feels too out of place and a shoehorning to tie her character’s relevance back to the main plot comes across as a little head scratching and convoluted. Her British Accent is also insufferable.
Despite these grievances, the film still remains rather bearable until the third act arrives, where, the film just crashes into a what can be described most accurately as a 12 carriage pile-up. Zeitch’s Fast and Furious edge quickly takes over as smaller scale action pieces are traded out for Bayhem level explosions and silly (yet somehow survivable) vehicular collisions through and through. The CGI during these sequences also ain’t pretty with the film’s aesthetic shifting more towards that of a video game cut scene. The level of plot armour also is ramped up full throttle as characters endure countless unsurvivable scenarios for them to only get up and simply ‘walk it off’. The big bad guy reveal also proves underwhelming with ‘The White Death’s reveal truly failing to live up to the menacing image much anticipated throughout the first two acts. Whilst the actor who plays him (not revealing here) does an okay job, he feels largely miscast and frankly, a little disappointing.
Overall, the film is just too generic to be anything more than ‘fine’. With a strong enough start, it’s eventual downfall into ‘tick-box’ action does little to make Bullet Train to stand out from the pool of other modern blockbuster flicks.