Fans of Gratuitous Violence, You're in for a Treat!
The first John Wick movie which released in 2014 was an instant hit, impressing in the box office while garnering the praise of both audiences and critics. Out of nowhere, this ‘one man versus the world’ action movie became a successful franchise with the fourth chapter set to be released later this year. Critics and box office analysts pointed out that the success of the franchise was testament to the void in the action genre created from the domination of this space by superhero films. It is true that we don’t see many of those big and ambitious hyper-violent Hollywood action movies anymore, at least ones that are well made.
Fortunately enough, John Wick’s co-director and seasoned stunt coordinator David Leitch is one of the new action film directors that stepped up to fill this empty space. He went on to direct movies like Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, and Nobody, all of which, regardless of their overall competency as a movie, offered stellar action sequences that did not disappoint and satiated our appetite for unhinged violence. Following up all of those movies, he made another action-packed film titled Bullet Train which was released last summer. This spectacle of a movie hits the nail on the head in getting all the elements we love about violent action movies right.
In many ways Bullet Train has the same recipe for success as John Wick, coupling an expertly orchestrated rampage of violence with quirky and interesting characters and an A-lister lead. In this case, action movie staple Keanu Reeves is substituted by Brad Pitt which comes as a pleasant surprise as we are not really accustomed to seeing him in movies with a lot of fighting anymore. Both movies also follow a very simple (perhaps too simple) premise, but all things considered it won’t be fair to put the two movies in the same equation as there are fundamental differences between the two that can’t be overlooked. Among many other elements what really differentiates the two is that John Wick has a dark and gritty mood whereas Bullet Train has a very totally opposite vibe as it’s an action-comedy movie at its core.
In a nutshell, Bullet Train is about a group of deadly assassins from all over the world, fighting each other to the death in a bullet train in Japan. All the assassins in the train are after the same thing, a briefcase which is the McGuffin of the movie. They all have different reasons for wanting the briefcase. However, the reason why they are all there ultimately connects back to a Yakuza Boss named White Death. Many of the assassins also have intertwined pasts which get revealed to us as the movie progresses.
We are introduced to the story by following the character ‘Ladybug’ played by Brad Pitt who, like the audience, stepping onto the train does not have any context about the briefcase, other than being told that he needs to obtain it. We learn abouts what’s going on and who is who by encountering new assassins and piecing everything together as it gets revealed through the interactions between characters and flashbacks. In a way, the story tasks us to figure out the full picture which is another element that keeps us on our toes besides all the action. This is especially engaging because the movie is very chaotic in the sense that everything is moving, and plans are changing constantly throughout the story.
Besides that, what adds to the mystery and chaos, is that we don’t know which character is going to die next in the movie. We see the Mexican assassin who goes by the name ‘The Wolf’ played by Bad Bunny die early in the movie which was surprising as he occupied significant space on the trailer and on the poster of the movie. This early death shows us that any character could die at any time. The fact that there are so many assassins makes this possible. Usually having that many characters is problematic in movies as seen in some less successful superhero films. With so many people, characters may end up not being properly developed and feel hollow. Nonetheless, this does not seem to be an issue in this film as the director acquaints us with each character in a very efficient way.
We are presented with just enough information to see what each character is about and their raison d’etre. This is achieved by quick flashbacks, peculiar anecdotes and exhibiting the relationship dynamics between the assassins. However, what really makes the characters in the movie memorable are their unique quirks and obsessions. For example, the protagonist Ladybug is self-diagnosed with chronic bad luck and is obsessed with therapy and mental health, while the character ‘Lemon’ played by Brian Tyree Henry is an obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine and applies lessons learned from the famous British children’s television series to his life, which is a very weird thing to do for cold-blooded assassin. These weird details about their persona don’t just make the characters stand out but also work as a shortcut in telling us about them. What really heightened my appreciation of these offbeat character quirks is that they seem meaningless at first, but they end up directly affecting the plot. For example, in one of the most critical moments of the film Lemon uses his obscure Thomas the Tank Engine references to communicate to his brothers that the little girl pretending to be innocent is in fact an evil assassin.
The biggest strength of the movie, even more prominent than the unique characters, is the visual imagery of it. Visually, the best way to describe the movie would be chaotic and colorful. Cultural elements from Japan are used in the film to stylize the movie not just thematically but also visually. Themes taken from Yakuza and Anime culture are used in parts of the movie. Also, each character is highly stylized in accordance with their background which reflects in their outfits and backstory flashbacks. Most importantly we see masterfully crafted fight scenes in the tight corridors of the bullet train which are choreographed and executed with humor, bloodshed and impressive long takes. All of this is bolstered by the smooth cinematography and amazing lighting ensures that throughout the movie, all the colors pop and each scene is aesthetically pleasing. This visual language plays the biggest role in making this film flow without any boring moments.
If you’re looking for a well-made action movie that’s going to offer non-stop entertainment and immerse you in the experience, look no further. Bullet Train blends humor and action in a delightful way like Deadpool and Kingsman, and has the elaborate fight scenes, endless action, and senseless bloodshed that made us adore John Wick. The premise of the movie might appear too simple at a first glance, but the unique characters and action sequences add enough flair and flavor to make the movie stand out. If you didn’t get the chance to see it in a theater, you can now stream it on Netflix.
Bullet Train (2022) Official Sony Pictures Entertainment Trailer