Bullet Train (2022) Review: Senseless, Off-The-Rails Escapism At Its Finest
Arriving at its station two weeks after Jordan Peele’s sci-fi western Nope (2022), Bullet Train offers its own lively blend of well-chosen cast members and a director who unabashedly wears his influences on his sleeves. However, whereas the former does so with richly allegorical subtext to match its suspenseful genre thrills, David Leitch’s action comedy about a group of hired guns who all converge on the same locomotive going from Tokyo to Kyoto is a film that feels like it exists simply for the sake of existing. Not only does it not get any deeper than the gleefully over-the-top brutality and droll exchanges that are inherently Tarantino- and Ritchie-esque in nature, it refuses to. While such a stance could easily be perceived as stubborn laziness, in this case, it’s actually one of proud defiance.
This kind of dignity is altogether fitting, not just because leading man Brad Pitt has worked with both of the filmmakers Leitch so obviously takes his cues from, but also because a little bit of stand-alone unoriginality goes a long way when presented under the right circumstances. They couldn’t feel more right than they are here; even though Bullet Train is an adaptation of a 2010 Japanese novel by Kōtarō Isaka, its stylistic blend of Japanese and American storytelling observances befits the production credits shared between the two countries. Not to mention, if Atomic Blonde (2017) and Deadpool 2 (2018) were any indication, there has yet to be an action sequence Leitch hasn’t enjoyed dressing up by toeing the line between humor and malice. What results is a film that has more than enough identity to spare even as the plot plays second fiddle to the R-rated choreography and unflinching violence.
The plot itself has tropes for days, particularly in the colorful names given to each of the characters. Between Pitt’s Ladybug, the Prince (Joey King), the Wolf (Bad Bunny), the Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada), and a pair of “twin” assassins who collectively operate as Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), no one’s in desperate need of an identity aboard Bullet Train, but there’s no mistaking any one of them for another when their names are flashed across the screen in brightly-lit, neon fashion. As these larger-than-life personalities play keep away with a briefcase, the film becomes less and less of a character study and offers a few mysteries for the audience and, more importantly, the characters themselves to solve, especially as they begin to learn of their shared relationship to a crime boss so ruthless and enigmatic that he’s known only as White Death.
Suspense may be at a low, but Leitch keeps the thrills consistently fun and white-hot throughout, and it’s hard to find a cast that’s having more fun in their respective roles as a result. Pitt ultimately landed himself a well-deserved Oscar under Tarantino’s name by demonstrating that he’s just as good with words as he is with his hands, and he demonstrates the same set of skills here, even though Ladybug is a far less innocent character despite the chronic haplessness that keeps him on the train. The humorous diatribes he exchanges with his handler (Sandra Bullock) through an earpiece are just the tip of Bullet Train’s iceberg, and the film is by no means a simple vehicle for Pitt. Years of shared martial arts experience benefit Sanada and Andrew Koji as a father-son assassin duo, particularly during the third act when things get increasingly chaotic and unhinged by the minute. King uses her still relatively young age to her advantage as she adopts a schoolgirl persona to mask some sinister ulterior motives, while Bad Bunny makes quite an impression as a vengeful Mexican cartel boss.
In a crowded tram of talent, which includes a few surprising and welcome cameos, it’s Henry and Taylor-Johnson who stand out the most in a pair of roles that could have easily been written off as Pulp Fiction knock-offs had they not put their own stamp of distinction on them. As the philosophical hitman who derives his ideologies from Thomas and Friends rather than the Bible, Henry’s Lemon becomes the perfect foil to Taylor-Johnson’s Tangerine, whose short-tempered nature and more immediate physicality ensures he carries the bulk of their action sequences. A prequel featuring the origins of such an entertaining and fruitful partnership should be in high demand.
It’s a considerable yet admittedly unwarranted thought to provide Bullet Train with an additional chapter, especially since it works so well in its lack of complication that it’s a wonder why more films haven’t followed the same kind of example. It’s a film as constantly in-motion as its singular setting allows it to be, which is almost the entirety of its two-hour-plus runtime. That it remains this way without the demands of a deeper message or a tamer rating to hold it back is an accomplishment without necessarily feeling like one. It’s the kind of narrative rearrangement that has no business being better than most of the franchise films and remakes lesser filmmakers than Leitch have leaned upon. Sometimes, a host of morally ambiguous criminals taking the bloodiest route possible from Point A to Point B is all you need.
Bullet Train (2022) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:
Spoilers for Bullet Train ahead!
Who is “Ladybug”?
An assassin codenamed “Ladybug” (Pitt) is tasked by his handler, Maria Beetle (Bullock), to retrieve a briefcase aboard a bullet train along the Shinkansen railway line in Tokyo, Japan. With a newfound lease on life, but still suffering from what he perceives as chronic bad luck, Ladybug is filling in for another of Maria’s operatives, Carver, who had called in sick.
Considering himself more of a “snatch and grab” kind of man than an assassin, Ladybug is fairly hesitant to go through with the plan, as he knows little about the briefcase and questions who else is after it. As a result, he doesn’t take the gun provided to him by Beetle before boarding the train. He also earns the ire of the train’s irate conductor when he loses his ticket before boarding and can only show him his receipt.
Who are “Lemon” and “Tangerine”?
Ladybug quickly finds the briefcase but soon discovers that it’s in the possession of “Lemon” (Henry) and “Tangerine” (Taylor-Johnson), a pair of “twin” hitmen who have been hired to escort the previously kidnapped son (Logan Lerman) of “White Death,” the head of Japan’s largest crime organization, back to his family in Kyoto, along with the $10 million ransom contained within the briefcase.
Upon realizing that the case is lost, the two make a frantic search for Ladybug throughout the train before returning to their seats, only to find that White Death’s son has been killed due to poisoning.
Who is “The Wolf”?
After stealing the briefcase, Ladybug attempts to depart the train but finds himself subdued by an onboarding assassin dubbed “the Wolf” (Bad Bunny), whose past life saw him as a cartel boss in Mexico. The Wolf’s existence came crashing down on top of him after his wife and most of his associates were poisoned at their wedding, driving him toward a career as a hitman, which leads him to a target aboard the bullet train.
Having been working undercover at the wedding, Ladybug is mistaken for the Wolf’s intended target and the two engage in a fight that culminates in Ladybug accidentally killing the Wolf. He then runs into the true target, “the Hornet” (Zazie Beetz), who injects Ladybug with poison from a boomslang she had stolen from a zoo in Tokyo, and which Ladybug had previously set loose on the train by accident.
Ladybug quickly removes the syringe and injects the Hornet before saving himself with her last dose of antivenom, leaving her to die instead. It is revealed the Hornet was also working undercover the day of the Wolf’s wedding and had beaten Ladybug to the kill by poisoning the wedding cake. It is also revealed that she is responsible for poisoning White Death’s son.
Who is “The Prince”?
Elsewhere on the train, hitman Yiuchi Kimura (Koji) is lured into the service of “the Prince” (King), a young British assassin who poses as an innocent schoolgirl to hide her guilty actions. The Prince had previously thrown Kimura’s son off a roof and is now forcing Kimura to cooperate with her by threatening to have the boy killed while he recovers in the hospital. The Prince reveals her plan to kill White Death by placing explosives in both the briefcase, which she eventually steals from Ladybug, and Kimura’s gun. Holding Kimura at gunpoint, she forces him to open the briefcase and place the explosives inside, which he does.
After running into Tangerine and Lemon, the Prince convinces Tangerine that Ladybug is responsible for poisoning White Death’s son, leading him to confront Ladybug. After the two indirectly reference the briefcase while answering his questions, Lemon grows suspicious of the Prince and Kimura, believing that one of them had to have kidnapped the other. Forcing them to reveal who the mastermind is, the Prince throws Kimura under the bus, leading Lemon to shoot him before he, too, is incapacitated by drinking a bottle of water that Ladybug had rigged with a sedative. The Prince then shoots Lemon.
Tangerine and Ladybug find themselves fighting over the briefcase, but eventually reach a stalemate. After Tangerine receives numerous phone calls from White Death’s associates inquiring as to the whereabouts of the briefcase and White Death’s son, Ladybug attempts to help him convince White Death’s men that both are safe at the train’s next stop. When their plan goes awry, the two make a break for the train, but Ladybug kicks Tangerine back onto the platform.
Undeterred, Tangerine jumps onto the train’s caboose just as it leaves its station, making his way back inside, where he discovers Lemon and Kimura’s bodies. He then confronts Ladybug and the Prince, the latter of whom begins to act like an innocent bystander once more. Convincing Ladybug that Tangerine is after her, the two engage in combat once more, culminating in Ladybug accidentally shooting Tangerine dead.
Who is “The Elder”?
At the train’s penultimate stop before Kyoto, Kimura’s father, “the Elder,” boards the train and quickly deduces that the Prince was the one who hospitalized his grandson. As the Prince prepares to flee, the Elder reveals to her and Ladybug that he was a former lieutenant for the Yakuza who was forced to leave the organization after White Death slaughtered his former boss and his wife, though he did manage to get Kimura to safety.
With White Death taking over as head of the Yakuza and several other crime syndicates, the Elder swore revenge and spent years tracking White Death’s whereabouts, all the while encouraging Kimura not to follow him into a life of crime, though he eventually did.
He then reveals to the Prince that he has ensured his grandson’s safety by having her associate within the hospital killed by one of his own, and the Prince flees to a different car. Finding both Kimura alive but wounded alongside Lemon, who had been wearing a bulletproof vest when he was shot, the four men prepare for the ambush awaiting them in Kyoto.
Bullet Train (2022) Ending Explained: Is White Death Defeated?
When the train arrives at its final stop in Kyoto, White Death (Michael Shannon) waits with his men as Ladybug steps onto the platform with the briefcase. White Death prepares to kill Ladybug after mistaking him for Carter (Ryan Reynolds), who is revealed to have been responsible for killing White Death’s wife in an attempt to kill White Death himself.
As he holds Ladybug at gunpoint, White Death is confronted by the Prince, revealed to be his resentful daughter, who wants to kill him after years of abuse and favoring of her brother. Daring him to shoot her with Kimura’s gun, he rebuffs her and orders his men to open the briefcase, setting off the explosives and knocking himself, his daughter, and Ladybug onto the train in the process.
With all the passengers off the train, Lemon sets the train in motion as Ladybug, Kimura, and the Elder fend off White Death and his men. With the train speeding further out of control, Lemon and Ladybug attempt to slow it down as the Elder wounds White Death in a duel. As the train passes over a bridge, Lemon forgives Ladybug for killing Tangerine before tackling one of White Death’s men out of the train into the river below, saving Ladybug’s life. Ladybug makes one final effort to stop the train to no avail, and the train derails into a small town.
Ladybug, Kimura, the Elder, and White Death all survive the crash. White Death makes another attempt to kill Ladybug, revealing that he hired all the assassins aboard the train in an elaborate plan to avenge his wife. After Lemon and Tangerine killed several of his men on a job in Bolivia, White Death’s wife was called to Tokyo to bail their son out of jail, but she was killed by Carver before she could do so.
Believing that everyone, including the Wolf and the Hornet, had a role to play in his wife’s death, White Death arranged to have his son kidnapped to force them all on the train, with Ladybug’s replacement of Carver being the only flaw in his plan. He then picks up Kimura’s gun and prepares to shoot Ladybug, but is killed instead when the gun’s explosives are triggered.
Ladybug, Kimura, and the Elder are then confronted by the Prince, who holds them at gunpoint before being run over by Lemon, who survived the fall off the bridge and hitched a ride into the town on a tangerine truck, thereby avenging Tangerine’s death. Shortly thereafter, Kimura and the Elder flee the scene as Maria arrives to escort Ladybug to safety. Ladybug then affirms to her his newly positive outlook on life.