The action genre can be a tough nut to crack, as the realm has been present for so long that most of its films feel stale or imitative in comparison. Whether it be the one-man killing machine, the buddy action comedy, an adventurous romance, the superhero tale, or another variation, the formula has always been endlessly popular, albeit not always creative. Fortunately, on occasion a new storyteller can revitalize this age-old format. With Bullet Train, a new spin is placed on the “wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time” trope, with joyous results.
Directed by David Leitch, Bullet Train follows Ladybug (Brad Pitt), an agent assigned to complete a mission aboard a train. Unbeknownst to him, the locomotive is carrying multiple other passengers with objectives of their own. Directed by the same filmmaker responsible for John Wick, Atomic Blonde, and Deadpool 2, this flick provides shades of all these movies in one over-the-top action-comedy that is ripe with quips, colorful characters, and an ever-growing storyline. The propulsive script wastes little time thrusting our protagonist into the central plot. Brisk pacing keeps the overarching tale chugging forward along with periodic reveals about the train’s motley crew via flashback that help heighten the viewer’s investment.
The most effective facet of the film is the slow burn mystery at its core. As the fists and quips fly the audience slowly learns more and more about what is going on in a style that lends well to likely a high rewatch value. Slowly but surely, this puzzle fills itself in and effectively manages to tie off all its loose ends in rousing fashion. The action sequences are nothing to shrug at as well, with marvelous fight choreography present throughout, and creative execution and a style of resourcefulness reminiscent of Jackie Chan Adventures. The humor is laid on a little too thick at times, but usually does not distract from the scene. Everything manages to stay the course for the most part until an implausible climax finally derails the story, but not before its enjoyment level has been maximized.
While the cinematic ride may be an enjoyable one, it is the acting that further elevates the material. The credit for this must be attributed first and foremost to Brad Pitt who is an absolute delight in the lead. He truly goes for it, imbuing his character with a unique persona filled with quirks different from any of his past roles. His mannerisms, facial expressions, and comedic timing are wonderful, resulting in one of his best portrayals in recent memory. Brian Tyree Henry, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Joey King, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Sandra Bullock are all splendid in their roles as well. Tyree Henry and Taylor-Johnson possess fantastic chemistry, nearly stealing the show with their combination of humorous and heartfelt interactions. These are the highlights, but in truth the entire cast brings their A game.
Overall, Bullet Train is a stylish action-comedy that would have worked just fine as a generic star-vehicle for Brad Pitt to kick some butt, but is pleasantly so much more than that. It not only possesses a superb leading man portrayal from Pitt, but also a creatively structured story with impressive fight cinematography, well-timed humor, great needle drops, and an overabundance of memorable ancillary figures. Every time a feeling of complacency sets in, the film manages to dial the amusement level up another notch. I give it 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it to anyone looking to be entertained.