August 9, 2022

I’m Going Off the Rails on a “Bullet Train” (Review)

There are a lot of things that Bullet Train could have been — a straightforward adaptation of Kōtarō Isaka’s 2010 novel, a wildly divergent interpretation, or somewhere in the middle — and I believe it made the right choice and settled with the best of both worlds.

I finished reading Isaka’s novel the morning before seeing the film, and my expectations were admittedly higher than the average moviegoer. After seeing the trailers for months on end during nearly every trip to the theater, I was sufficiently excited, even more so to see the characters I had gotten to know brought to life on the big screen by some of my favorite actors.

As its title might suggest, Bullet Train takes place nearly entirely on ten high-speed rail cars, speeding along the tracks through Japan. On said bullet train gather seven mercenaries of varying degrees of skill, all with a goal in mind that is almost guaranteed to conflict with the objectives of the others.

If I had to choose who is the “main” character, I would probably cite Ladybug, played by America’s sweetheart (well, one of them), Brad Pitt. He’s experienced, but extremely unlucky, and it’s that same misfortune that keeps him at the very center of a tangled web of chaos and insanity. On the train, he crosses paths with English assassins Lemon and Tangerine (played by Atlanta’s Brian Tyree Henry and Avengers’ Aaron Taylor-Johnson, respectively), Mexican hitman the Wolf (a hilariously committed acting turn by singer Bad Bunny) and the poison-oriented killer the Hornet (Joker’s Zazie Beetz), among many others.

I will say that
Bullet Train is a bit of a mess. There is an influx of characters, many of whom we have to familiarize with in a very short period of time, and these character-based beats are intercut with brutal, oftentimes visceral scenes of stylized action violence. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but love it — and not just in a “turn your brain off” kind of way. Bullet Train is aware of every single job it has to do, and the product is a wildly entertaining mix of pop culture references and show-stopping action that understands its audience and what kind of story they want to see.

Like its namesake, Bullet Train never slows down. It easily could have gone the route of an intense action thriller — and you can see a bit of the early drafts present in the final film — but it decides to have fun instead of sticking to seriousness. I am grateful for that, but I will also admit that I probably liked this more than the average person because of my experience with the source material (which is nearly identical to the film, if a little more simplistic, for two thirds of the runtime), but I just had such a fun time — and sometimes, that’s all you need. The cross-cultural elements combined with the unabashed quirkiness combined with the location-specific action made it all the better.

Bullet Train is in theaters now.