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‘Bullet Train’ Review: Brad Pitt Leads This Gleefully Overloaded, High-Speed Battle Royal

Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry and company play in-transit assassins in 'Atomic Blonde' director David Leitch's wildly complicated action vehicle.

By Peter Debruge

Peter Debruge

Chief Film Critic

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Bullet Train

The bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto takes about two hours and 15 minutes — just the right amount of time to pull off a cartoonishly over-the-top action movie, in which half a dozen assassins shoot, stab and otherwise perforate each other’s pretty little faces in pursuit of a briefcase stuffed with cash. It’s a high-stakes game of hot potato, choreographed and executed by “Atomic Blonde” director David Leitch , in which a self-deprecating Brat Pitt wears a bucket hat and oversize specs, Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson play bickering “twin” hit men Lemon and Tangerine, and “The Princess” wedding crasher Joey King (known here as the Prince) is a cunning killer who can fake-cry on command.

These quirky characters — and a handful of others, with names like the Hornet (Zazie Beetz) and the Wolf (Benito A Martínez Ocasio, aka Bad Bunny) — are identified by giant on-screen labels superimposed over their flash-frozen mugs, the way Martin Scorsese or Guy Ritchie sometimes intro their ensembles. “Bullet Train” feels like it comes from the same brain as “Snatch,” wearing its pop style on its sleeve — a “Kill Bill”-level mix of martial arts, manga and gabby hit-man-movie influences, minus the vision or wit that implies.

Adapting the pulp Kotaro Isaka novel “MariaBeetle” for a mostly Western cast, Leitch and screenwriter Zak Olkewicz make each of these characters twice as eccentric as necessary, lest audiences’ attention wane for an instant. Maria (as voiced by Sandra Bullock) is the bug in Pitt’s ear, guiding the newly nonviolent tough guy (this anger management joke recently featured in “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” as well) through what’s supposed to be the cinchiest job of his career: Board the bullet train in Tokyo, grab the MacGuffin and step off at the next stop. Cha-ching goes the choo-choo. Except Ladybug (as Pitt’s character is dubbed) is hella unlucky, and there appear to be more murderers crammed together here than Agatha Christie could fit on the Orient Express.

Meanwhile, innocent bystanders are at a minimum. There’s a busybody woman who keeps shushing Ladybug and Lemon when their fistfighting gets too disruptive, but after a few stops, practically the only passengers who remain aboard are ones who would kill for that briefcase. There’s also an incredibly poisonous boomslang snake, whose venom takes effect in 30 seconds, making victims bleed from their eyes, like poor Logan Lerman (the first character to bite it, serving out the rest of the film in floppy-corpsed “Weekend at Bernie’s” mode).

The movie’s strategy is to keep throwing deadly obstacles at Pitt’s character, who gets his hands on the bulletproof Tumi fairly easily early on. Ladybug’s remarkably good at improvising his way out of trouble — even when the movie literally goes off the rails at the end. Setting all this mayhem on a train wasn’t Leitch’s idea, though the stuntman-turned-director makes the most of that limitation, staging visually interesting set-pieces in different cars. Ladybug and the Wolf have a knife fight in the bar area. Later, he and Tangerine smash up the kitchen. There’s some funny stuff that happens in a neon-lit segment of the train involving the mascot for a local kids’ show, who keeps getting punched in the face. Even the lavatories are fair game.

The fight scenes feel relatively original, which is impressive unto itself, considering how many other creative filmmakers are trying to distinguish themselves in the genre. Leitch tends to approach these standoffs the way Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire once did their dance numbers: The violence needn’t be taken literally (which is tough at times, considering how brutal the bloodshed can be), but rather appreciated mostly for their choreography and capacity to surprise.

Still, there’s something callous about how casually Leitch takes human life. “Bullet Train” reps one of the first and most ambitious pandemic-made blockbusters to be released, demonstrating that Leitch and company felt confident enough the world would go back to normal that they could have the Prince push a 6-year-old off a roof just to lure the kid’s father (Andrew Koji, by far the film’s weakest link) onto the train. King’s character is a real piece of work, wearing a black bob and pink schoolgirl-style getup. She’s a heartless manipulator, frequently posing as an innocent victim to ensnare her prey.

Eventually, “Bullet Train” reveals that behind this in-no-way-coincidental roundup of assassins was an elaborate plan by fearsome underworld boss the White Death (Michael Shannon) to avenge the death of his wife. But he’s not the only one who lost a loved one, as Hiroyuki Sanada’s samurai-like the Elder demonstrates when he boards a stop or two before Kyoto.

The geographical logic of “Bullet Train” doesn’t make much sense, but then, the movie looks as like was produced without the principals so much as stepping foot in Japan. And why not? It’s essentially a live-action cartoon, with high-profile cameos sprinkled in for added laughs. Stylistically, Leitch is trying his darnedest to channel the likes of Tarantino and Ritchie, even if the dialogue and mock-British accents aren’t nearly strong enough to earn such comparisons.

Tangerine and Lemon are likable characters, though the latter is constantly going on about how everything he learned about people comes from “Thomas the Tank Engine” (which explains a lot about how reductive the movie’s understanding of human nature is). Similarly, Ladybug is always quoting trite self-help aphorisms, which invariably get a laugh. This may be a fun enough ride, but such punchlines drive home that neither the characters nor the film they inhabit are particularly deep. Quite the opposite, in fact. As Calvin and Hobbes so aptly put it, their train of thought is still boarding at the station.

Reviewed at Regency Village Theater, Los Angeles, Aug. 1, 2022. MPA Rating: R. Running time: 126 MIN.

  • Production: A Sony release of a Columbia Pictures presentation of an 87North production. Producers: Kelly McCormick, David Leitch, Antoine Fuqua. Executive producers: Brent O’Connor, Ryosuke Saegusa, Yuma Terada, Kat Samick.
  • Crew: Director: David Leitch. Screenplay: Zak Olkewicz, based upon the book “Maria Beetle” by Kotaro Isaka. Camera: Jonathan Sela. Editor: Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir. Music: Dominic Lewis.
  • With: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Benito A Martínez Ocasio, Sandra Bullock, Zazie Beetz.

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Bullet Train Reviews

movie review bullet train

Bullet Train’s driving engine quickly loses steam. Its runtime is never justified, especially when it chooses to prioritize odd tangents over cogent and streamlined storytelling.

Full Review | Nov 2, 2023

movie review bullet train

Bullet Train is bombastic and silly, but it rarely pretends to be anything else. Is it a great movie? No, not by any stretch. Is it a fun movie? Yes, but like the rails, the bullet train goes off, mileage really may vary.

Full Review | Sep 17, 2023

movie review bullet train

And let's just say with all these stunts, gore and adrenaline-inducing sequences, it is hard to be bored.

Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Aug 18, 2023

movie review bullet train

As it poorly emulates Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, the action picture ends up as a cartoonish mess and exhausting watch more than an entertaining popcorn flick.

Full Review | Original Score: C- | Jul 29, 2023

movie review bullet train

Bullet Train employs David Leitch's maximalist style in a purposefully silly narrative driven by frenetic action and distinct humor. Every second with Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry is genuinely hilarious.

Full Review | Original Score: B | Jul 25, 2023

movie review bullet train

AWESOME. The last big ride for the summer that brought back the movie theater experience for so many people & what a film to end on. Widely entertaining from top to bottom that constantly gives you laughs, action, & insanity.

Full Review | Jul 25, 2023

movie review bullet train

Bullet Train is turbulent and chaotic but a thrilling ride nonetheless. Its illogical, blood-soaked premise may derail some, but others might find charm in its memorable cameos, wild hairstyles, and magnetic characters.

movie review bullet train

Watching Brad Pitt completely flanderize into a human golden retriever who only recites self-help sayings for 2 hours and 6 minutes was insufferable.

movie review bullet train

Bullet Train isn’t going anywhere fast. It’s self-indulgent and thinks it’s doing something entirely unique. The film gives itself far more credit than it deserves.

Full Review | Jul 24, 2023

movie review bullet train

I used “annoyingly fun” to describe Bullet Train because I don’t know what other oxymoron can best capture the delirium that transpired in its two-hour runtime.

Full Review | Original Score: 2.5/5 | Jul 21, 2023

movie review bullet train

It’s a waste of an interesting premise, it drags after the first act, continues to hit new levels of monotony, and, ironically, never picks up the pace.

Full Review | Original Score: 1/5 | Jul 20, 2023

movie review bullet train

Bullet Train is a mixed bag, worth seeing for action fans, but maybe at a matinee screening or when it hits VOD. There’s a tighter and better 100-minute movie in that 126-minute high-energy extravaganza...

Full Review | Original Score: C+ | May 3, 2023

movie review bullet train

With an A-list cast happily playing against type, a nonlinear storytelling approach, witty dialogue and a plethora of creative violence, Bullet Train plays out like an immensely satisfying upgrade of prime Tarantino.

Full Review | Original Score: 9.5/10 | Jan 1, 2023

A blast... The film works because Brad Pitt is a really funny and engaging guy.

Full Review | Original Score: A | Dec 16, 2022

Leitch helms his action with clarity and impact, creating a beautifully nonsensical thrill ride that could have been a trainwreck, but entertains to the end of the line.

Full Review | Original Score: 8/10 | Nov 30, 2022

movie review bullet train

If Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is wagyu steak, this is a juicy dive burger.

Full Review | Nov 30, 2022

movie review bullet train

Strangely, this murder at 320kms per hour action comedy may be an embarrassment of riches in the talent department, but the execution leaves one exhausted by the trip, impatient to find their stop.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Oct 25, 2022

movie review bullet train

Without ebbs or flows to modulate the viewing experience and a never-ending barrage of increasingly ridiculous action (fun at first; exhausting by the end), Bullet Train proves that sometimes “more” is actually too much.

movie review bullet train

Like the titular mode of transportation, it does pick up speed as it barrels along.

Full Review | Original Score: 2.5/4 | Oct 23, 2022

movie review bullet train

Brad Pitt's comedic chops are what saves an otherwise exhausting Bullet Train. It is Pitt's incredible comedic deliveries and charisma that carry the film. He proves that, even with a poor script, he has the talent to keep the film on track.

Full Review | Oct 19, 2022

IMAGES

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  3. Film review: Bullet Train starring Brad Pitt

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  4. "Bullet Train" Movie Review

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  5. Bullet Train Movie Review: Bloody, Twisted, Wild Ride From Start to Finish

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  6. “Bullet Train” (2022) Review

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COMMENTS

  1. 'Bullet Train' Review: Brad Pitt Leads This High-Speed Battle

    By Peter Debruge. Scott Garfield. The bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto takes about two hours and 15 minutes — just the right amount of time to pull off a cartoonishly over-the-top action movie ...

  2. ‘Bullet Train’ review: Brad Pitt stars in a thrill ride you

    “Bullet Train” certainly moves at an appropriately brisk pace, with Brad Pitt heading a sprawling cast. But the breakneck action is offset by a smart-alecky tone that proves both uneven and ...

  3. Bullet Train

    Bullet Train is a mixed bag, worth seeing for action fans, but maybe at a matinee screening or when it hits VOD. There’s a tighter and better 100-minute movie in that 126-minute high-energy ...