Summer isn’t summer without a good old-fashioned popcorn movie. Thinking about it, this season has felt a bit lacking in these big-budget staples of contemporary cinema until this weekend. With its frenetic action and quips, Bullet Train brings all the joy of a summer movie tentpole, but this time out, we aren’t talking about superheroes. Here’s everything you need to know about Bullet Train.
Bullet Train follows a group of people who descend upon a (you guessed it) bullet train in Japan for nefarious purposes. Let’s call it like it is; they’re assassins. In the age-old tradition of Agatha Christie, sparks are sure to fly as these people converge on the cramped high-speed train. Brad Pitt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Joey King, Andrew Koji and Hiroyuki Sanada co-star in the picture. David Leitch directs Bullet Train from a script by Zak Olkewicz. The story comes from the book of the same name by Kôtarô Isaka.
Sitting down to watch Bullet Train, a comparison leapt to mind immediately. In his work on the action comedy, director David Leitch crafts a movie that can best be described as Deadpool meets Quentin Tarantino. There’s the non-stop action of a Marvel movie, the violence of Quentin Tarantino at his most unbridled and the quippy joy of Deadpool. Yes, it is as fun as it sounds.
Leitch, of course, is best known to audiences thanks to his work on the above-mentioned, R-rated Marvel gem. Leitch brings his trademark flair to Bullet Train for those familiar with his distinct style. He keeps the film moving at a breakneck pace throughout almost the entire narrative. The action is bone-crunching, and the dialogue is fast-talking and delightfully quippy.
Few directors handle this brand of quippy quite as well. In Bullet Train, Leitch kicks off the franchise restraints (his last feature-length outings were Marvel and Fast and Furious films) and shows exactly who he is as a filmmaker. This movie has a sense of freedom and joy, and the cast and crew buy into it.
The only real struggle in Bullet Train comes as it reaches the limits of its pace. As mentioned, the film proceeds quickly throughout much of the narrative. Unfortunately, this leads to one problem. When things slow down, it is very evident. We’re talking, boring. This is perhaps most noticeable at the tail end of the second act. An occasional long conversation or exposition dump in most movies doesn’t make or break the narrative flow. Bullet Train, though, is a different animal.
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It is so action-packed for so long that when the leads stop and talk for once, you start wondering when the next action sequence is coming. As the end of the second act rolls around, the movie wants to deliver some of its plot points, and it’s suddenly easy to feel the two-hour runtime.
Meanwhile, everyone in the decidedly stacked cast shines, making it hard to call out only one performer in this talented ensemble. A look over the trailer makes it clear this is a Brad Pitt vehicle (Sandra Bullock gets a surprising amount of screen time in the marketing too). Brad Pitt brings his A-game here. The actor ranks among the highest of A-listers in the industry. There are actors, and there are movie stars. Movie stars stand in front of (and sell) a film rather than melding into a role. Brad Pitt is a movie star.
However, as the wanna-be reformed assassin “Ladybug,” Pitt looks to be having an absolute blast, and it shows in every frame of the film. His performance is elevated and melds with this movie’s challenging tone and pace. His charisma gels with the chemistry of this ensemble, and everyone is playing on the same level. There’s real life and energy to this movie, and much of that comes from Pitt. It’s hard to think of the last time he visibly had this much fun.
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As mentioned, though, Pitt is not alone in Bullet Train. This ensemble shines around him. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry show flawless chemistry as “twin” assassins “Lemon” and “Tangerine.” Tyree Henry makes the film with Lemon’s passion for Thomas the Tank Engine. The role is also great for Taylor-Johnson, who (like Pitt) looks like he’s having more fun in the role than he’s had in a long time.
Not to be outdone, Joey King takes no prisoners as “The Prince.” The young actress is not a newcomer to the industry. However, this character should be pictured next to the dictionary definition of a star-making role. King reaches new levels of complexity by playing a young woman with more going on than she’s saying. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t give her more to do.
King shines as she takes “Prince” from moments of comedy to vulnerability and, most impressively, sheer terror-inducing ferocity. Prince might look like a schoolgirl, but she has no problem matching wits with the men around her.
Last but not least, it is a joy to see actor Masi Oka pop up in a small but memorable role. The actor will be well-remembered by the action/sci-fi community thanks to his work in the 2006 television series Heroes. While he’s been busy as a voice actor, his onscreen work has been rare outside the small screen (where he featured as a regular on Hawaii Five-0 for most of the procedural’s run). Oka is always a joy to watch, and Hollywood should figure out how to use him. He deserves more opportunities than he gets.
Watching Bullet Train, one thing came to mind: fun. The actors look to be having a blast, and the many laughs rolling through my small screening showed the audience having just as much fun. This movie is a big, bold action comedy that pulls no punches. In a movie-making climate where even popcorn films are tentpoles expecting audiences to remember continuity, it is a joy to have a movie in a self-contained world that aims to excite and entertain. Don’t expect much; grab your popcorn, sit back and enjoy.
Fans of the edgy action films of the Quentin Tarantino variety should check this one out. The same is true for fans of director David Leitch. If Deadpool was right up your alley, you won’t be disappointed with Bullet Train.
Bullet Train opens in theaters around the country today.
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