Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 6 minutes, Director – David Leitch
A group of strangers, all with links to crime organisations, find themselves looking for a briefcase holding $10,000,000 whilst on a bullet train.
Perhaps one of the things least expected from Bullet Train, the latest action flick from director David Leitch, is a running gag about Brian Tyree Henry’s character’s – codenamed Lemon – fascination with Thomas The Tank Engine. He carries around a set of stickers and will gladly list the names and personalities of each of the trains from the children’s TV series, to the confusion of those around him. He claims that the show has taught him about friendship and kindness, alongside helping him to read people and understand their true motives. It certainly seems to have helped as he tries to decode the various assassins and criminal minds around him on a bullet train where multiple figures are after a briefcase holding $10,000,000, each for different reasons which somehow link back to those who are also trying to obtain the case.
These various figures are led by Brad Pitt’s Ladybug. A figure who believes he is cursed with bad luck and is looking to gently get back into the crime game with a nice, easy ‘smash and grab’ – perhaps even avoiding the ‘smash’ – led by his commander Maria (the voice of Sandra Bullock). However, what starts off as a fairly easy job soon spirals into chaos as Ladybug is trapped on the train defending himself against knives, guns – which he refuses to use himself – bottles, a giant mascot and an irritated conductor amongst other things. Despite much of the action taking place on the train the film manages to avoid feeling restricted by its one-location multi-carriage setting and moves along through its compartments fairly well.
The action itself is rather stylish, carrying a standard Leitch vibe perhaps more in line with Deadpool 2 and eventually Fast And Furious: Hobbs And Shaw than the likes of John Wick and Atomic Blonde. This partly comes through in the comedic tones that are dashed throughout. The opening stages are played out more for comedy than anything else, an attempted joke inserted into most instances – the running Thomas The Tank Engine gag seems funnier to the creatives than anyone else. It’s a shame that the humour never quite takes off throughout the film. There are a couple of mild chuckles and exhales of amusement here and there, but nothing proper in terms of actual laughs. It causes the earlier sequences, where we’re still being introduced to the characters – getting through various flashbacks and recollections and lengthy not-quite-montages which intercut conversations between characters happening at the same time to construct one long scene/ sequence – to feel overshadowed by the comedic attempts, leaking into covering up the action.
Once out of the way of the various introductions and build-up of relationships and motivations things begin to move along a bit more smoothly. It certainly takes a bit of time for things to pick up speed, but eventually there’s enjoyable viewing to be found as characters begin to share more scenes together, and there are less separations in general meaning less jumping from carriage to carriage with each new scene or moment. It also allows for things to generally move along with more ease, and therefore the action to take a bit more of a centre stage as it appears to quietly become a bit more pivotal, and generally more enjoyable. While this does start to lead it to a rather messy third act where various ideas are thrown into the mix at once until things, almost literally, come off the rails there’s still an enjoyable enough nature to things as the end nears that you can just about excuse things, even if one or two narrative decisions would be better off having not been made. It may take some time to get going, and the final destination might be a bit messy, but eventually there’s an enjoyable enough film within Bullet Train to warrant watching once the stylish, fairly light yet undeniably bloody, action begins to play a more key role in the proceedings.
Once the characters begin to come together and the action becomes more prominent over the comedic attempts there’s decent enough viewing within Bullet Train. It might start to get messy in the third act, but thanks to the style it’s just about excusable.