Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire!
I’ve spent a lot of time over the last decade plus watching movies that would often be classified as important and meaningful. I’m okay with that, but sometimes you don’t want to think or have deep feelings. Sometimes, you just want to watch things blow up. Fortunately for those of us who sometimes just want to watch the world burn, one of the few things that we have done well in the last 10 years is that we have just about perfected the action movie. While I wouldn’t call it Exhibit A, we need to put Bullet Train on that list.
For the record, I think this trend probably started with Die Hard and has continued (but is not limited to) Dredd, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Raid: Redemption among others. Bullet Train is very much an action-comedy. What this means is that we’re going to have a lot of fights and a substantial number of deaths, but a lot of it is going to be done (successfully) for laughs.
Like most action movies, the plot here is straightforward. An operative codenamed Ladybug (Brad Pitt) is ordered to board a bullet train in Japan and retrieve a briefcase because the person requested to do the job is sick. Seems simple enough. However, Ladybug is plagued by constant, epic bad luck. Also, on the train are a number of other people who are looking for that same briefcase or who are already in possession of it and don’t want to give it up. The entire film, then, is a series of assassins and criminals trying to find this briefcase and get off the train with it.
Included in this collection are Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), brothers who, despite being racially different are somehow twins. We also have The Prince (Joey King), who uses her appearance as a young girl to disarm people and take advantage of them. Lemon and Tangerine have been tasked with bringing the briefcase filled with money to a Yakuza boss called The White Death (Michael Shannon) along with his son (Logan Lerman). However, The Prince wants revenge on the White Death.
When Ladybug walks off with the briefcase and the White Death’s son winds up dead and bleeding from his eye sockets, we’re going to be introduced to a number of other criminals and assassins. The Wolf (Benito Martinez Ocasio, aka Bad Bunny) is seeking revenge for the death of his wife. The Hornet (Zazie Beetz) is an assassin who specializes in poisons (and who has a dangerous boomslang snake on the train as well. We also have a Yakuza gangster named Kimura (Andrew Koji) who is looking for the person who pushed his son off a roof. That person happens to be The Prince, who did this to lure him onto the train to help with her revenge plot. And through all of this, the White Death is asking for constant updates, and no one wants to tell him that his son is dead and the briefcase is gone.
That sounds complicated, and it is complicated. What’s going to play out, more or less, is fighting over the briefcase, fighting over misunderstandings, the playing out of a variety of revenge plots, and a hell of a lot of death and dying. As the plot continues, we’re going to find out that all of these people are strangely connected in a number of ways, even as they are trying (and sometimes succeeding) at killing each other.
In terms of action, this reminds me a great deal of a film like Kung Fu Hustle. What we’re seeing play out on the screen is a series of ridiculous set pieces (which puts it more in line with something like The Raid) but that are played both for violence and comedy. It’s Jackie Chan with a lot more death, and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. Bullet Train is wildly entertaining even as it throws a lot of plots together seemingly for the hell of it or just to make the movie a little bit longer.
This is also a case where lack of depth is a boon to the overall experience. As I said at the top, sometimes I don’t really want to think that hard. I want things to blow up and see people fight comically with knives, and when things get even a little confusing, I want the film to stop and walk me carefully from point A to point B so that I don’t have to worry about why or how things are happening. Bullet Train is a movie to turn off your brain to, and it excels at being exactly that. And honestly, that’s enough.
Why to watch Bullet Train: It’s a ridiculous action movie.
Why not to watch: A lot of potentially great characters that don’t get much screen time.