Bullet Train Is a Wild, Wild Ride


Brad Pitt is 58 years old. Conventional wisdom says he’s supposed to be too old to be busting heads and kicking ass, but we just had a 60-year-old Tom Cruise break box office records with Top Gun: Maverick, so here we are. Pitt busts heads and kicks ass while on a bullet train ride from Tokyo to Kyoto and it’s one hell of a trip.

Based on the 2010 Japanese comedic thriller Mariabitoru (Maria Beetle) by Kitari Isaka, Bullet Train sees Pitt play easygoing former hitman Ladybug whose assignment to steal a briefcase on the shinkansen turns from a simple grab and go to an action comedy of errors that end with a whole lot of death and destruction.

Directed by David Leitch, the man behind Deadpool 2 and (uncredited) co-director of John Wick, Bullet Train is loaded with the brutal action and dark humor that happens when you put several contract killers on a moving train and pit them against each other. Among the killers are a pair of adoptive brothers, Lemon and Tangerine (Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor Johnson), the erstwhile owners of the briefcase, whose banter and love-hate dynamic are some of the film’s funniest moments. Tangerine is a no-nonsense kind of guy who does all the planning while Lemon talks about Thomas the Tank Engine to anyone who’d listen.

Photo by Sony Pictures.

Also aboard the train is mobster Yuichi Kimura (Andrew Koji) aka The Father, who is out for revenge against the person responsible for pushing his primary school-aged son off a roof and putting him in a coma. That person happens to be the Prince, played by the unconventionally pretty Joey King, whose agent must be the hardest-working man in Hollywood. King, the star of Netflix’s Kissing Booth trilogy, also top bills in Hulu’s The Princess, a sort of medieval Die Hard where King plays a princess who John McClanes her way through her family’s castle under siege. 

King’s turn from romantic lead to action star is unexpectedly fun, and her take on the book’s manipulative, sociopathic schoolboy is more nuanced than the source material. The Prince has a chip on her shoulder and luring Kimura is just part of her ploy to get to her real target, the mysterious and elusive White Death (Michael Shannon).

Rounding out the rogues' gallery is a Mexican assassin known only as The Wolf (rapper Bad Bunny) and a toxin specialist called The Hornet (Zazie Beetz). Put a wolf, a hornet, and a snake—a real one, not a code name—in an enclosed space and you can be sure to expect some chaos. There’s definitely no shortage of chaos as all the characters try to shoot, stab, and strangle one another at various junctions of the trip.

The multiple story threads hint at some convergence towards the end reminiscent of Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Joe Carnahan’s Smokin’ Aces but there’s nothing so clever. The story is as linear as a train on tracks and doesn’t hold too many surprises even though there are little flashbacks and hints sprinkled here and there, but when a water bottle has more backstory than one of the assassins, it’s a reminder that this isn’t a film that takes itself seriously.

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Photo by Sony Pictures.

In fact, it’s sprinkled with cameos that should delight even the most casual moviegoer. Channing Tatum’s cameo as a train passenger who thinks he’s being propositioned is just as funny as Pitt’s cameo in Tatum’s The Lost City with Sandra Bullock. There’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo that’s a punchline in itself as well as an unexpected character reveal at the end.

Bullet Train is colorful, chaotic, and largely uncomplicated, providing action and comedy in equal amounts. Pitt’s lucky (or unlucky, according to him) Ladybug always attempts to diffuse a situation with one-liners and quotes from his therapist, and there’s an almost comical homage to Jackie Chan in his refusal to use a firearm and the way he deflects knives and guns. It might as well have been adapted from some Japanese manga because it certainly feels like one.

If there’s one thing to criticize about the film it’s that it missed a golden opportunity to cast more Asians in the roles. In Isaka’s novel, all the characters are Japanese, but in Bullet Train, only Kimura and his father, The Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada), are. Oh, and a shamefully underutilized Karen Fukuhara of The Boys, who plays a train attendant hawking snacks and drinks to passengers.


The film’s main conceit, that all the action happens on a moving train, offers plenty of opportunities to be clever. Fight scenes in a tight, enclosed space is a creative challenge, but the playground expands somewhat when you have cars with a fully stocked bar and lounge or the occasional flashback to explain character backstories. 

Expecting anything more than ridiculous, mindless, and oftentimes funny violence is a recipe for disappointment because Bullet Train is a one-way ticket to fun and there are no stops. Pitt will be a sexagenarian next year, but just like his ripped role in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, he’s showing no signs of letting up. 

Bullet Train is now in cinemas nationwide.

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Hugo Zacarias Yonzon IV
Zach Yonzon is a cake artist and co-owner of Bunny Baker
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