In watching the Bullet Train trailers, while avoiding spoilery reviews, it seemed as if there was a twist that was leading the studio to market the film as something other than it was. I expected there to be some sort of switch that would lead the film to be something different than a fun but brainless action movie that was full of comic violence. Now, without being too spoilery myself, I can say that the comic violence is something that this movie is full of, but there is a lot more going on than that. You can, if you want to, find in this film an escapist action film with a lot of violence that manages to be jokey enough about it that one does not have to take it too seriously, but at the same time there is a lot here that is serious that is going on underneath the surface, and the film’s marketing campaign ended up working wonderfully in that it attracts two groups of people who would come to see this film and enjoy it a lot–people looking for a lot of exciting action, and those who recognize that the film’s marketing is a disguise for something else and are curious to see what that is. Neither of those groups of viewers will end up being disappointed.
One of the joys of this movie is that the tight approach to framing the action of the movie ends up serving the filmmaker’s apparent larger goals. Throughout the film there are a great many moments–starting from the beginning and continuing to the end–that could have been played for pathos but instead have a lot of the emotional sentiment undercut by ironic humor of a somewhat slapstick variety. Yet the film itself does deal with some potentially emotional subjects–such as the importance of good parenting. Similarly, the film’s action, and the way that every object and character in the film ultimately belongs and has a surprising degree of importance, often ironic or karmic in nature, is itself a sign of the film’s overt attempt to portray karmic justice. Those characters that seek to control fate find themselves destroyed, while those who accept their fate ultimately find themselves successful and alive, no mean feat in a film with a body count as high as this one. This film seems to leave only one loose end remaining at its end, and if that does not necessarily seem enough for a sequel, it is enough to remind us that even after an ending as seemingly decisive as this that there is still something else in the film’s universe to portray.
It is difficult to exaggerate how many twists are present in this film. Indeed, the film itself opens with a twist, and its last twist–a satisfying one–occurs towards the beginning of the credits and a reward for those who do not leave immediately after the main action ends, which itself features a twist when it comes to the film’s casting. Overall, this movie has a lot to praise about it, it not only provides escapist fun but also some serious material to think about when it comes to the burden that fathers have in trying to raise successful offspring, and how hard it is for people to remember who the real enemy is in a comically small world of rival murderous assassins and career criminals. If Brad Pitt is the big name here, this film is truly an excellent ensemble piece, and the filmmakers do a great job of quickly introducing important objects and characters with flashback scenes that add to the depth of what is being shown without slowing down the rapid pace of the film, a pace that is entirely suitable given the subject material of a carefully selected group of people being sent together on a bullet train to a troubling and dark fate. Those who see us as being like those seemingly doomed passengers are welcome to see the dark setup of this film as a reminder of the dangers of our own age, hurtling towards catastrophe even as we try to cope with the hostilities of our circumstances and wail against the injustice of our fate.