Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

6 Best And 6 Worst Things About Bullet Train

Brad Pitt? Assassins? The director of "Atomic Blonde," "Deadpool 2," and the original "John Wick?" On the surface, "Bullet Train" sounds awesome. And it's definitely got a lot of fun elements ... but the action film also some pretty big drawbacks. 

The movie tells the story of a group of disparate killers and career criminals who all find themselves on the same, you guessed it, bullet train. Their assignments overlap and come into conflict with one another leading to more and more chaos as the movie goes on. It's an action-comedy reminiscent of other chaotic, ensemble criminal movies like "Smokin' Aces," Robert Rodriguez's "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," and especially the early gangster comedies of Guy Ritchie.

It's hard to say more without getting into what makes the film work and what doesn't, so without further ado, let's jump into the six best and six worst things about "Bullet Train." Be warned — there are spoilers below.

Best: Joey King's performance

With her titular role in "The Princess" and now her role as the Prince in "Bullet Train," Joey King seems like she's about to mark herself as royalty in action movies. The young actor has already made a name for herself in horror after her role in "The Conjuring" and starring in the creepypasta adaptation "Slender Man." And granted, she's got her own rom-com franchise with Netflix's "Kissing Booth" movies, but if your speed is more "assassins battling it out" than "young love," then "Bullet Train" is a fantastic intro to King and a movie that should help her become a major player in genre films. 

While she doesn't actually do that much fighting in "Bullet Train," her turn as a sociopath willing to do anything to get what she wants is a joy to watch. She uses her appearance as a sweet, defenseless young woman to trick nearly every experienced assassin in the movie. But more than that, we learn that she's capable of committing brutal acts of violence with a smile on her face. It's a great performance and one that shows King could have a future playing villains if she wants to. Here's hoping we get to see her take on more duplicitous roles like this and that she continues to star in action movies because she fits right in.

Worst: Set in Japan but only has two Japanese characters

"Bullet Train" is based on the novel of the same name by Kōtarō Isaka, a Japanese author who set the book in Japan with a cast of Japanese characters. The movie adaptation is also set in Japan and uses significant Japanese iconography, like big kanji letters on screen to introduce each new assassin. But many of the characters in the movie are changed to be American, British, and Mexican. Because of that, "Bullet Train" has come under fire for whitewashing, and we'll let you decide how you feel given the rather racially diverse cast.

But what we can say for sure is that it's disappointing that the movie doesn't include more Japanese actors. The only two important Japanese characters are low-level criminal Yuichi Kimura (Andrew Koji) and his father, known only as the Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada), and they're both great in the movie. But what really raises an eyebrow is that the main villain of the film, the White Death — who is meant to be a yakuza boss — is Russian (played by American Michael Shannon).

Shannon is great in the role, especially when he delivers a villain monologue in a thick Russian accent (that may or may not be very accurate). But it's still disappointing that he was cast instead of a Japanese actor to play a Japanese character. And among the many assassins who make their way through the train over the course of the movie, certainly at least one more of them could have been Japanese.

Best: Bullet Train's great ensemble cast

While it certainly would've been nice to see more Japanese characters in a film set in Japan — and revolving around a yakuza crime lord, no less — it's hard to complain about the cast that the movie does offer. Fresh off working together on "The Lost City," Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock spend much of "Bullet Train" on the phone with one another. And Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry play a pair of assassins known as the Twins.

And those are just the two teams. There are independent players on the train too, like Joey King's the Prince, Bad Bunny making his big screen debut as cartel hitman the Wolf, Zazie Beetz as assassin the Hornet, Andre Koji's Kimura, and Hiroyuki Sanada as the Elder. Seeing all these great actors on screen together is a joy in itself, but what makes the ensemble cast really great is their chemistry.

Whether the characters are friends or enemies, all of them serve up great banter in their scenes together. And whether they're about to save or kill each other, they somehow always seem like they're having fun.

Worst: Too much comedy, not enough action

Perhaps surprisingly given that David Leitch is known as an action director for his work on movies like "Atomic Blonde" and "Hobbs & Shaw," "Bullet Train" is a comedy first and an action movie second. That's a little disappointing when the marketing makes it look like the movie will serve up some seriously hard-hitting fight scenes, and it becomes a real problem when the comedy drags the action down.

There are a few scenes in the movie that mix comedy and action, but in most of these, the quips (which, to be fair, are usually at least worth a chuckle) let all the tension out of the fights. It's hard to feel like these characters are battling for their lives when they have enough time to catch their breath and crack a joke.

But beyond that, the movie just doesn't actually include that much fighting, opting instead to focus on the comedy arising from the crazy situation. Which is fine, and the movie is certainly a very good ensemble comedy, but it really feels like "Bullet Train" should have an equal amount of blood and belly laughs, and instead, it ends up being a comedy with some action scenes sprinkled in.

Best: Big train action

Surprisingly, the best action in the movie doesn't come from hand-to-hand fights (something we'd certainly expect from the director of "Atomic Blonde") but from large-scale action scenes involving the train. Whether it's characters climbing on the locomotive or the destruction of passenger cars, the most exciting moments in the movie are all train-centered, which maybe actually isn't that surprising for a movie called "Bullet Train."

When the train is attacked by the White Death's henchmen at a stop, they climb on top of the cars so that they can be sure no one can get away. But what they don't expect is for the train to start moving while they're still on top. This leads to some really thrilling moments and some brutal deaths. And speaking of thrilling, earlier in the movie, Aaron Taylor-Johnson's Tangerine has to get back into the train after having been pushed off, and in his attempt to get back on board, he literally jumps on the train and has to hold on for dear life before breaking a window.

But none of that is as fun as the full-scale destruction the movie serves up in its final moments when the train goes flying off the tracks into a small town. It's the level of destruction we're used to seeing in disaster movies, not a film that seems like it will all take place in a single location, but it's one of the best sequences in the movie.

Worst: The fight scenes are disappointing

It doesn't really make sense that a movie directed by David Leitch — one where both Brad Pitt and Aaron Taylor-Johnson trained and performed a number of their own stunts — isn't actually that exciting when it comes to hand-to-hand combat. The small-scale action scenes in "Bullet Train" just feel like they're missing something. Whether it's the choreography or the way that the fights are shot, they simply don't look as good as they could and should.

It may be because the movie is ultimately more interested in working as a comedy than an action movie, but there also just aren't that many up-close-and-personal fight sequences. When trailers for the movie first debuted, it seemed that "Bullet Train" would deliver the same level of action Leitch has become famous for, but sadly, the movie drops the ball on that aspect — both in terms the quality and the quantity of the martial arts action.

It's possible that we'll see sequels or spinoffs for "Bullet Train," and hopefully those will deliver more action that highlights the fighting skills of the many characters we're told are great pugilists but who only get to display a fraction of their combat savvy.

Best: Lemon and Tangerine's banter

The ensemble cast of criminals and professional assassins coming together with overlapping motives is enough to bring to mind Guy Ritchie's early ensemble gangster comedies, but the characters who seem most like they were just ripped out of one of his films are the British killers, Lemon and Tangerine.

Brian Tyree Henry (Lemon) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Tangerine) are both great in their roles as these fast-talking, heavily accented tough guys, but the best thing about them is their scenes with one another. The two are brothers and seem to have gone through everything in life together since growing up, including becoming hitmen who are comfortable performing the most violent acts money can pay for.

It's in their first scene together that we also learn about Lemon's obsession with "Thomas the Tank Engine." He goes so far as to keep a sticker sheet with all the characters from the show so that he can explain it to people and place stickers on them depending on which character he thinks they are. Tangerine thinks this is silly, and there are hilarious moments of the pair bickering about how relevant a kids show about trains is to their work as criminals.

But through all their brotherly frustration with one another, there's also a lot of love that lends the movie its few moments of real emotion. And that emotion is all thanks to the repartee the two have that makes us believe they love one another the way only brothers can.

Worst: Too many therapy and Thomas the Tank engine jokes

An ensemble crime comedy needs characters with idiosyncrasies, and in "Bullet Train," those characters are Brad Pitt's Ladybug and Brian Tyree Henry's Lemon. Ladybug can't stop talking about therapy and changing his perspective so that every conflict becomes an opportunity for connection. And Lemon brings his extensive knowledge of "Thomas the Tank Engine" to every new encounter.

The joke of a hitman who's gone to therapy, is really getting to know himself, and speaks comfortably about seeking non-violent ways to overcome conflict is undeniably funny, and over the course of the movie, there are a lot of variations on that theme. Likewise a professional criminal whose worldview is shaped by a children's TV show and is extremely talented at reading people because of his fandom is a unique reference-centered joke that's also surprisingly central to the plot of the movie.

But as the film's runtime goes on, these jokes do become a bit stale. There are some therapy jokes from Ladybug at the end that feel as though writer Zak Olkewicz lost interest and simply wrote the first thing that came to mind. And the "Thomas the Tank Engine" references eventually just turn into characters accusing each other of being Diesels, the villain of the show.

Best: The Bullet Train cameos

"Bullet Train" already boasts a lot of characters played by fantastic actors, but there are even more famous faces hiding in the movie. There are roles like the White Death, played by beloved character actor Michael Shannon, as well as the Hornet, played by the always great Zazie Beetz (who also co-starred in Leitch's "Deadpool 2"). Granted, these parts are just a bit too big to be counted as true cameos, but they still offer the same excitement of seeing one of your favorite actors in a small role. And while Sandra Bullock is a voice in Ladybug's ear throughout almost the entire movie, we don't get to actually see her up on the screen until the very end for a moment.

But "Bullet Train" offers two cameos that are truly unexpected and are sure to bring a smile to viewers' faces. The first is Channing Tatum, playing a passenger on the train who's tasked by Ladybug with wearing his glasses and bucket hat so that he can trick Tangerine. His appearance is a delightful surprise, and his curiosity about whether Ladybug's favor, for which he's being paid, is a sex thing makes the scene even funnier. The second is a super quick non-speaking cameo from the one and only Ryan Reynolds as the assassin Mr. Carver. It's a fun blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment with Deadpool himself.

Worst: Not enough Zazie Beetz

Zazie Beetz's Hornet features significantly on the poster for "Bullet Train," and while no one gets as much screen time as Brad Pitt in the trailer, she's definitely there, posing quite the threat. She's one of the most exciting actors working right now, and the marketing seems to know that and wants her to be a draw to fans. But sadly, she's barely in the movie. She's in it even less than Michael Shannon's White Death, who doesn't even appear on the poster.

It's disappointing that her character really only gets one scene in the movie — a fight with Brad Pitt's Ladybug as she attempts to stick him with a needle of deadly snake venom. It's also strange that she gets so little time on screen because her character is actually very important to the movie's plot and is the only reason that Bad Bunny's Wolf is in Japan. Maybe we'll get a spinoff that gives her more time to shine because she certainly doesn't get enough in "Bullet Train."

Best: Stylized character introduction flashbacks

There are multiple flashbacks in "Bullet Train." Some of them give us information about characters' past relationships, and others serve as character introductions. Those character introduction flashbacks are the ones that really feel like something special.

The Wolf's flashback is an almost entirely dialogue-free montage that gives his entire backstory — including some of the highlights of his career as a gangster — in a gorgeously lit, Western-feeling hue. It brings to mind Nicolas Winding Refn's Amazon Prime series "Too Old to Die Young," which tells a similar story of a cartel member rising through the ranks to become his own boss before tragedy alters his trajectory.

And the Elder and the White Death have overlapping flashback introductions that feel almost like they take place in the samurai fantasy world of Zack Snyder's "Sucker Punch." These scenes are so beautifully blue, white, and red that they don't feel quite attached to the already heightened reality of the movie, but it's done in a way that makes them super fun to watch — especially given that a lot of the action here is in slow-motion in falling snow, something that's going to look gorgeous no matter how well it's color-graded.

Worst: The flashbacks are too short

Because the flashbacks in "Bullet Train" are gorgeous and include some of the coolest action scenes in the entire movie, they feel all too brief. It's certainly not a complaint about their inclusion — it's more about the fact that there's not enough of a good thing. It's the major element that makes it seem as though the "Bullet Train" book may have been better served as a miniseries than as a movie.

The wordless introduction for the Wolf is certainly very cool because its almost entirely visual storytelling, which is always great but especially so in an action movie. However, it feels like it could be its own movie instead of simply being rushed so that we can get the important information we need for this film. Likewise, the history of the White Death and the Elder feels like it could be a miniseries on its own, and the quick glimpse we get of it here only makes us want to see more.

It's definitely not bad for one of the worst things about a movie to be that there's not enough of something good. However, it is a bit worse when the flashbacks we want more of are better than some of the action scenes that take place in the actual timeline of the movie.