The typical summer blockbuster nowadays has one of three things:
- Superheroes (See: Thor Love and Thunder)
- Scary stuff (See: Nope)
- Minions (See: Minions: The Rise of Gru)
Bullet Train has none of those things, and yet it earned over $30 million in its opening weekend, putting it ahead of all three movies listed above. Could it just be the box office draw of acting superstar Brad Pitt? Or the unexpected but kickass appearance of Bad Bunny? Perhaps, but honestly? It’s just a bloody, good time.
It should come as a surprise to no one that I loved this film, because I loved director David Leitch’s previous directorial works Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2. However, this is not the first time that Leitch and Pitt have worked together; Leitch was Brad Pitt’s stunt double in Fight Club (1999). Given Leitch’s history of stunt work and badass action movies, Bullet Train follows suit.
The story isn’t as straightforward as it initially appears to be: Ladybug (Brad Pitt) is on a bullet train to steal a briefcase. Easy, right? Wrong. The train is full of assassins from every corner of the globe, and they all seem to be after the same thing. Sort of. Of particular interest are the “twins” Tangerine and Lemon, two British “businessmen” who bring the briefcase onto the train after rescuing a Russian Crime Lord’s son. No spoilers here, bu things get convoluted and a lot bloody with nearly non-stop fight scenes. And a few cleverly placed cameos.
Though the film is based on Kōtarō Isaka’s book Maria Beetle, the adaptation is not fully faithful to the book, not that the author seems to mind. In an article in The New York Times, the author came across as amenable to changing characters’ ethnicity and with the scriptwriter taking a bit of artistic license to turn his book into a true Hollywood blockbuster.
“I don’t have any feeling of wanting people to understand Japanese literature or culture. It’s not like I understand that much about Japan, either.”-Kōtarō Isaka, as quoted in The New York Times
Hollywood’s influence is most keenly felt in the stunt work. Rather than relying on the use of CGI and green screens to deliver fight scenes, the actors worked with stunt coordinators to do a majority of their own stunts and fights. The filming predominantly took place on sound sets in California due to COVID, and the result of filming in such an “old school” practical effect way was an almost visceral experience. It’s so grotesque in places, it’s practically a neon sign. Several times I cringed when Brad Pitt took a punch, or covered my eyes when blood spewed out of someone’s artery, as if I were sitting in a splash zone. The film is almost Tarantino-esque, but without the creepy misogynistic undercurrents.
The film is also really funny. Rather than Pitt portraying the “cool suave spy” a la James Bond, he’s an operative who goes to therapy and wants to bring peace and good vibes into the world. And Lemon of the Wonder Twins? He’s obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine, and spends a majority of the film telling people that they are “Henrys” or “Gordons” or—god forbid—a “Diesel.”
It is the seeming disconnection of all the characters, plot lines, and themes that ultimately shows that, actually, everything is connected. Ladybug (Pitt) is convinced at first that it’s bad luck, but at the end of the film, when all the strings are woven together to reveal the grand design, it looks a lot more like fate, destiny, doom…whatever you want to call it.
Or it could just all be a big coincidence and nothing means anything. Comme tu veux.
Verdict: go watch it or you’re a Diesel.
Bullet Train is now playing in U.S. cinemas.