The assassin Ladybug ( Brad Pitt ) somehow has enough of his work. Just murdering other people all the time, eats away at the substance. Especially since he is always a little bit unlucky. But the new job should be easy, at least that’s what they say: board an express train that’s bound for Tokyo and take a briefcase with you. What can go wrong? A lot, because the two colleagues Tangerine ( Aaron Taylor-Johnson ) and Lemon ( Brian Tyree Henry ) are supposed to bring this briefcase to the crime boss White Death ( Michael Shannon ), together with his son ( Logan Lerman ). In addition, the Japanese killer (Yuichi Kimura ) wanders around on board the train, and wants to avenge his son and comes across a mysterious schoolgirl ( Joey King ) along the way…
Depending on your perspective, a train is either a very comfortable or a very cumbersome means of transport that can theoretically take you to distant places in a short time. But it is also a rewarding setting for films. Whether it’s the Agatha Christie classic Murder on the Orient Express, the zombie spectacle Train to Busan or the action thriller The Commuter, vehicles has always served as the background for exciting stories. In this respect, Bullet Train stands in a quite presentable tradition, when a Japanese express train becomes the scene of numerous crimes. The film is reminiscent of the above works in several respects – as are many others. Above all Quentin Tarantino seems to have been the godfather. But that doesn’t have to be wrong in the first place, as long as something good has been stolen.
You can give Bullet Train that. Despite the star ensemble, expectations were rather modest in advance. “Too generic” was a common criticism based on the trailer. The special effects didn’t leave good hair either. After seeing the film, neither of these things can be dismissed out of hand. But it doesn’t matter that much. The special effects, for example, are mostly only used at the very end when director David Leitch is there and really wants to let it rip. There are a lot of glitches in there. And of course, practically nothing about the film is truly original. You’ve seen most of it in one form or another. When there are half a dozen killers on the loose here, it doesn’t just seem familiar because of the prominence of the actors and actresses.
The fact that this still work is largely due to this ensemble, which throws itself completely into its mercilessly overdrawn characters. Whether it’s the constant bickering of the “twins” Lemon and Tangerine, or running gags like Ladybug’s omissions about good and bad luck, they practically all have quirks of some sort here. One of the highlights in Bullet Train is the constant change of the supposed schoolgirl, embodied by the shooting star Joey King ( The Princess, The Kissing Booth ), who manipulates people in a cynically brutal way. The good-humored bunch is rounded off by a whole series of guest appearances, which often only last a few seconds and are nevertheless positively remembered for the various absurd ideas.
But Bullet Train isn’t just a silly comedy about stupid assassins. Instead, things get pretty decent here. It takes a while until all the figures are positioned in the microcosm train so that the small war can really start. Especially since new ones are constantly being added as the process progresses. But when they are finally allowed to fight, no clothes remain without nasty blood stains – and not a dry eye. The way director David Leitch ( John Wick, Atomic Blonde) repurposes the banalest of furnishings into deadly weapons is as entertaining as it is impressive. Precisely because Hollywood meanwhile equates action with green screen and cutting thunderstorms, such actual physical fights are quite good.
The film is not without flaws. On the one hand, it turned out to be a bit long at over two hours, in between it gets a bit long, also because you never want to part with the characters. Sometimes you feel trapped in an endless loop. On the other hand, other points are broken off very abruptly when some topics or storylines suddenly disappear without a conclusion having been reached. But despite these minor weaknesses, Bullet Train is a nice surprise in more ways than one. The at the same time extensive, almost labyrinthine and yet very cramped setting in connection with a jumble of different parties, all pursuing their own agenda, ensures variety, excitement, and amusement. As long as you don’t mind the fact that many Japanese characters were replaced by American ones in the adaptation of a novel by Kōtarō Isaka, you can have fun with this.