As of writing this, Bullet Train has a 54% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and that gives me a bit of a sadness.
We’ll obviously get into the details and the meat of the review shortly here, but this was one of the most fun new film experiences I have had in 2022 so far… and 2022 has been a good year for movies overall, so that is saying something!
Having watched Bullet Train the same day as Prey, I can say that I enjoyed Bullet Train slightly more. Now, is that chalk-up-able (I made that up) to the fact that I saw Bullet Train in cinema, while I had to watch Prey at home in a less suitable environment for its scope and intensity? Probably. But even though I really enjoyed them both, I want to see Bullet Train again already. I’m not dying to see Prey for a second time just yet.
Despite how it was advertised, this is less of a straight Brad Pitt vehicle than it is an ensemble production. Aaron Taylor Johnson, Bryan Tyree Henry, and Joey King are all given almost as much screen time, if not more, than Pitt himself. So while Brad is the lead, he’s not burdened with lugging the entire flick on his back. And everyone from Pitt on through the rest of the cast acquits themselves wonderfully with what they are given. The flick by no means slows down when we start seeing what the other characters are up to.
As per usual, I’ll divulge SPOILERS BETWEEN THIS IMAGE FROM THE MOVIE AND THE NEXT. If you want to duck spoilers, skip below to the next still from the flick!
Bullet Train is the story of Ladybug, a kind of vaguely described mercenary who does odd jobs, as assigned by his handler, for money. He has had a string of what he determines as rough luck, but at the start of the movie, he’s ready to get back into the game. Taking over for another merc, Carter, who is ill, he is set up by his handler on an easy job. But, as you’ve no doubt seen from the trailers, the job is anything but.
The story is made up of several moving parts. Lemon and Tangerine (Henry and Johnson) are more mercs who are hired by a Russian Yakuza lord named The White Death to retrieve his son and a briefcase full of ransom money. Ladybug is also hired to be on the trail of the briefcase for reasons that are unknown early on. The Prince (Joey King) has her own grudge with The White Death. Yuichi (Andrew Kofi) is on the train to find the person responsible for pushing his son off a roof.
And those are just the MAIN main characters! This is all to say nothing of The Wolf (Bad Bunny) looking for the person who killed his wife, The Hornet (Zazie Beets), an assassin also hired to find White Death’s son and briefcase, and The Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada), the father of Yuichi who has other motivations for boarding the titular vehicle.
And so Bullet Train becomes one of those Snatch-esque stories where several seemingly disparate elements are all eventually coalesced into a fine point where we find out how they are all key pieces of the same puzzle. Even in the spoiler section, it wouldn’t be fair to give too much away about how all of that happens or why!
(And in all honesty, I’d really need to sit through the movie again to make sure I didn’t miss anything)
The thing about Bullet Train is that all of these moving parts are stuck on the same claustrophobic train, so while some other movies that play at combing pieces seem to jump around larger locales and can occasionally be jarring, everything about BT works. We aren’t seemingly randomly jumping around locations worldwide; everything that’s being pulled together is within a few cars of each other.
In addition to Snatch, Bullet Train gave me heavy Big Trouble In Little China vibes where our protagonist may SEEM like he’s playing the Great White Hope trope, but ultimately, Pitt is just a guy caught up in something over his head and doing his best with his charm to get by. Ultimately, the hero of the movie is The Elder, and Pitt is just a figure on the chessboard to help bring him to The White Death. I appreciated that. BTiLC was a movie I grew fonder of the more I thought about how it twisted expectations, and that led to my affection for Bullet Train coming to me right away.
The movie has a few cameos you should enjoy, too, with Channing Tatum pulling a goofy role and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Ryan Reynolds, likely returning Pitt’s favor from Deadpool 2.
Speaking of Deadpool 2, I mentioned that Zazie Beets was in this, and that’s one of BT’s few outright misses. Beets is out of the flick far too soon after she’s finally brought in. I didn’t mind Bad Bunny getting a smaller role since he is most notable as a singer, but we know Zazie’s talents as an actress, and she was worth more than a few minutes’ worth of screen time.
As I mentioned, I had a blast watching this. There were some very funny moments throughout, the action was well-directed and enjoyable, and there is some decent heart here, too. Henry and Johnson steal every scene they are in with their chemistry, and King is one of our brightest up-and-coming stars. As for Brad Pitt, the trailers tell you most of what you need to know: he is obviously having a ball in this role, and he remains a high quality A-list star. He’s not stretching himself here or anything, but this is a role that just lets his natural charisma float him from beginning to end. We know he can act; sometimes you just want to be charmed and have a star make you chuckle.
The story is engaging. I enjoyed the bit in the third act where we see all the gears behind the scenes bring everyone together, but if I’m honest? Several elements are aspects you would never be able to come up with on your own. There just aren’t enough clues there (or I’m too dull to see them all), so some of the reveals are just… along the lines of “This makes sense because the movie told me it did”.
That said, you know what? Bullet Train leapfrogged Top Gun: Maverick into the #2 spot in my movie of the year list. Everything Everywhere All At Once still feels untouchable, but this is the closest 2022 has come of me!
Now, if I may ask you for a bit of a favor? I mentioned the seemingly unjust Rotten Tomatoes score to start off this article. Well, I’m looking to be part of the solution. I’m going to apply for RT certification, and you can help! Just click HERE to visit and my link tree, and leave me a 5* review on any podcast player you listen to. The more reviews I have, the more likely it will be that I get approved when applications reopen this spring!
It would mean the world to me!
A glorious ensemble cast, a great meshing of action and humor and story-telling, and some remarkably fun moments. The Rotten Tomatoes machine may not be all that infatuated with Bullet Train, but it worked on every level for me.
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