Bullet Train is a Tarantino-esque crime story that unfolds within the confines of a single train, populated by an ensemble cast of colourful assasins in the vein of John Wick. The ensemble cast excels in bringing these thinly sketched assassins to life, undermined only by some very dubious accents. Central to this is Brad Pitt’s charmingly hapless hitman-in-therapy, though Bryan Tyree Henry and Joey King are likely to be the most memorable. David Leitch’s action credentials are beyond reproach, having spent several decades as a stunt performer and coordinator (including as Pitt’s stunt double) before turning to direction with John Wick. He was apparently reluctant to direct this project because of the constraints in choreographing action confined in a train, but those restrictions can also breed creativity as we have seen previously in Snowpiercer and Train to Busan — such is the case with Bullet Train, and there is little sense of repetition in the kinetic hyperviolence until very late in the proceedings. The neon visuals of Leitch’s spy thriller Atomic Blondealso fit more naturally into the Japanese setting. The final element to holding the audience’s attention is the twisting story that gradually links the backstories of these assassins as they hurtle toward an ominous final stop in Kyoto. Along with Everything Everywhere All At Once, 2022 seems to be a welcome return for franchise-free action films and, in a quiet summer less dominated by superhero movies, hopefully Bullet Train will find the audience it deserves.
“You know those movies where the picture just starts to slow down… and melt? Then catch fire? Well, that’s Berlin.”
Outside of superheroes, Hollywood has struggled to provide us with compelling female-led action movies. Atomic Blonde bucks the trend, though ironically Charlize Theron’s dedicated performance crafts a coldly determined character with whom audiences may struggle to empathise. A Cold War spy thriller with graphic novel roots, the script retains the unusual ability to surprise. Told in flashbacks through an adversarial debriefing, we know that what we are shown may not be the whole truth. James McAvoy’s nihilistic, brazenly duplicitous turn as a deep cover agent is a particular highlight. 1989 Berlin is shot in cool blues infused with splashes of neon colour — it’s reminiscent of John Wick (which Leitch co-directed). Everything is familiar then, including the action (a brutal extended fight in a stairwell stands out), but this strange blend of Le Carré and John Wick is presented with a stylish boldness that demands attention.
Like the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel, Deadpool retains his confident swagger but has lost some of his disruptive freshness. The humour remains edgy and wonderfully delivered, and the film maintains its ability to surprise, despite straining with the attempt to tell a larger story. Domino is a fantastic addition and her “lucky” superpower allows for the most creative action sequences. In some ways the film serves as an argument against Disney’s acquisition of Fox, so that Deadpool can take equal potshots at DC and the MCU from the sidelines. Deadpool 2 also makes far better use of a post-credits sequence than Marvel has managed of late.