David Leitch’s Bullet Train is a whip-fast action movie – but it’s at times convoluted and doesn’t know what to do with its ending.

“I just want to get off this train; find a zen garden,” Brad Pitt’s protagonist, known only as Ladybug, says as his simple smash and grab mission turns into a complicated nightmare. There are many things about Bullet Train that could be considered derivative of other recent action films – the upbeat soundtrack that often plays during action scenes, the vivid neon lighting, and the freeze frame character introductions. But Pitt’s character isn’t one of them.

It’s clear that director David Leitch (who, funnily enough, has been a stunt double for Brad Pitt on five occasions) is going back to the style of his earlier filmography. Namely John Wick (which he co-directed with Chad Stahelski but wasn’t credited for) and Atomic Blonde, the films he made before taking on franchise work in the form of Deadpool 2 and Hobbs & Shaw. Like the latter two, though, this is more of an action-comedy, and Leitch tackles that genre for a third time with mixed results.  

Pitt’s character is hands down the best thing about the film, and is far from generic. We see a highly trained operative tasked only with finding a specific briefcase on a Tokyo bullet train, and leaving with it unscathed. It’s a job John Wick would scoff at, and yet Ladybug has requested the easy work. He doesn’t want to use guns or violence, seeks a peaceful resolution and repeats positive affirmations to himself and those around him. He’s a reluctant protagonist who just happens to have the worst of luck.

Pitt’s performance in this is great – he’s the most laid-back, conflict averse assassin you’ve ever seen. He tries, largely unsuccessfully, to talk people down before resorting to a fight. It’s a refreshing, and amusing, change to the character type. 

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What should be an easy job turns into a potential bloodbath when Ladybug discovers he’s not the only operative on the train. Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor Johnson) are transporting a crime lord’s son. The Prince (Joey King, dressed as a schoolgirl who loves pink a bit too much) has her own agenda. So does Yuichi Kimura (Andrew Koji), who seeks revenge for his son being pushed off the roof of a department store. It just so happens that there are some unexpected connections between these assassins, and they soon complicate Ladybug’s mission, and raise questions as to what meets them at the end of the line.   

The various characters also, at first, overcomplicate the plot. The separate endeavours of these assassins seem initially unconnected, and we flit between them at considerable speed. There are also additional characters, like The Wolf (a gangster played by rapper Bad Bunny), who get thrown into the mix as well. As if there weren’t already enough plot threads to be following. As the film progresses and the links between characters make themselves gradually known this becomes less of a problem, as things start to come together. 

The journey towards that point is an absolute blast. Ladybug’s aversion to violence makes for some out-of-the-box fight choreography as he’s forced to improvise and grab ordinary objects to pummel people with. And he’s always got his go-to sleeping powder to fall back on. There’s plenty of action to enjoy here, as the various cast members race up and down the train, trying to figure out who keeps messing up their individual plans and to find the briefcase. 

Not all of the scuffles are as inventive as those involving Pitt. Taylor-Johnson’s agent Tangerine is basically his antithesis – aggressively cockney, foul-mouthed, and absolutely ready to shoot anything that gets in his way. His character is on the simpler side, and unfortunately one inserted emotive moment isn’t enough to redeem this. The actor is, however, giving his all throughout the whole thing. 

Brian Tyree Henry’s Lemon is far more likeable, but no less built upon two-dimensional idiosyncrasies. His entire shtick is that he talks about the different types of people on the train, comparing them to characters from Thomas The Tank Engine. As he discusses all the different types of people out there, and insists on finding the ‘Diesel’ (or bad guy) on the train, it becomes clear that actually, categorising characters by which Thomas The Tank engine train they are makes more sense than you’d think. 

No matter how loveable Lemon may be, though, it doesn’t change the fact that Bullet Train relies on its character’s quirks to make them fun. It’s got no interest in real character development – Lemon is defined by his love of a kids’ TV show, Ladybug by his laid-back attitude, and The Prince by her ‘sweet little girl’ act. But it’s not that kind of film. It gives action, comedy, and a whole lot of fun, and that’s exactly what it sets out to do. There’s also a highly amusing star cameo that’s a real highlight. 

Sometimes it takes its comedy sensibilities a little bit too far. We definitely don’t need, as the action is ramping up, to stop and introduce a water bottle as a major character. We also don’t need to then go back to the story’s beginning to catalogue its journey through the film. It’s a silly moment that breaks up the action just as it’s about to peak. As distracting as that moment is, though, missteps like it are rare. 

As we come to a conclusion, and what waits for our assassins at Kyoto, at the end of the line, Bullet Train goes off the rails (pardon the train pun, it was too good to resist). Abandoning the amusing quirkiness that defines the rest of the film, we head towards a more serious and predictable ending. Where at the start the film seemed convoluted, here it’s simplified to the point where the villain is able to neatly summarise the entire thing with a bit of generic bad guy monologuing. Smart fight choreography also largely devolves into a bit of a disappointing CGI-fest.

David Leitch definitely shows an affinity for action sequences and colourful characters and settings. Bullet Train takes us on an enjoyable journey with many twists and turns, but ultimately the train doesn’t quite make it into the station.

Bullet Train is in UK cinemas today.

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