Bullet Train

Bullet Train ★★★

Yes, everything you've heard and read about Bullet Train is true. Yes, it's incredibly stupid and mostly made up of bits from other films. Yes, it's too long. Yes, a lot of the CGI is surprisingly bad considering the budget. Yes, it's set entirely in Japan and is based around the Yakuza yet features an amazing number of white people. All those things are absolutely the case, yet I still had a good dumb time with this one, and since that is my standard for modern blockbusters, that means Bullet Train rates a pass/three stars in my book. Is that, to indulge in an unpardonable cliche, damming with faint praise? Yes, yes it is, but you should see the competition at the multiplexes or on streaming these days. I mean, yikes!

Brad Pitt is the first of many hitmen we meet in Tokyo boarding the titular train to Kyoto (which in reality takes less than three hours rather than all night as portrayed here but never mind, it's a movie, I know) with the simple assignment of retrieving a mysterious case while working on his self-improvement. No, it's not Ronin (1998), and despite Pitt's presence and some comedic geezer humour courtesy of two English hard types it's not Snatch (2000) either (but there's very Guy Ritchie names and on-screen introductions matched by many Quentin Tarantino-approved flashbacks). One of them was played by Aaron Taylor Johnson, the other Brian Tyree Henry with a very impressive English accent. Also showing off some strong UK accent work is star and producer of The Kissing Booth films, Joey King, whose oeuvre I hadn't encountered before, but since her character is Russian the received pronunciation sort of makes sense, Londongrad and all that, yeah? There's a lot of other well known faces and voices, just not many of them Japanese. I know, COVID-19 fucked everything up so they had to shoot it on two soundstages on Los Angeles, so I can cut the movie some slack for the visuals, but they could have at least used Japanese sirens on the emergency vehicles at the end rather than American ones. I know Americans never notice things like this because to them the whole world is America, just sometimes where they talk and act funny. I mean those Japanese and their wacky techno-toilets...I thought jokes about those went out with all the airline food material but apparently not.

Anywho, back in the golden age of action cinema, that is to say the 1990s, the major directors had instantly recognisable visual styles: you knew when you were watching a Tony Scott, or John Woo or Paul Verhoeven or Michael Bay movie. To his credit David Leitch (who, incidentally, was also Pitt's stunt double going all the way back to 1999's Fight Club) does too. So there's his ultra-saturated colours and bullet-time (apposite given the title) camera, and in a world of plug-and-play "directors", where the movie is essentially completed in pre-viz, you have to admire a filmmaker with at least some on-screen personality. Leitch, like Zack Snyder, has a comic book approach to cinema, and I mean that as a compliment as everything is big, bold and colourful, with frames like splash pages and action so silly you can almost see the speed-lines and read the "POW!" sound effects. Befitting his stunt background, the fights have a very Jackie Chan-esque quality, but as I like to say, if you're going to rip off anyone, it might as well be the best, the punch-on in the quiet carriage being perhaps the finest example of that. So even if at times he does a bit of self plagiarism, for example the katana kills were very Deadpool 2 (2018) and other parts are more than a bit John Wick (2014) you can forgive it. He might not be aiming as high as he did with the original John Wick or Atomic Blonde (2017), but as with previous outing, Hobbs & Shaw (2019) Bullet Train was another adequate popcorn movie with enough action and laughs (I don't care what others think, I loved the Thomas the Tank Engine running joke) to earn it a passing grade.

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