You’d be forgiven for thinking that David Leitch’s Bullet Train – a film about a Japanese ‘Shinkansen’, aka a high-speed railway train, filled with assassins all trying to retrieve the same briefcase – might be a gritty, gory action-fest. But while Leitch doesn’t tend to hold back when it comes to bringing the pain, his latest also looks to be a bright, tonally-playful thrill-ride, throwing as many jokes out there as its characters do punches, populated by a varied bunch of colourful characters. Case in point: Brian Tyree Henry’s blonde-haired British assassin Lemon (part of a duo with Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Tangerine), who isn’t just a train fanatic – he’s a total Thomas The Tank Engine-head.
“He knows how to tell his marks based on certain characteristics of Thomas The Tank Engine,” Henry tells Empire in our new Summer Preview issue. “He can tell if there’s somebody that’s reliable, something that needs to be killed right away, or somebody that is actually up to little schemes.” Lemon can get all that, from a kid’s TV show about an anthropomorphic locomotive engine? We’re suddenly seeing Thomas in a new, more sinister light.
Henry went all in on the character quirk, dedicating time to watching numerous episodes, and even bringing that banger of a theme song to set during shooting. “I would find myself whistling the Thomas The Tank Engine tune in-between takes,” Henry recalls. “One time I pulled my phone out to check something and Aaron was like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ I told him I really need to understand the difference between a diesel and autonomous engine.” Who knew that an icon of British children’s telly, created all the way back in 1984, could have such an impact on one of the biggest blockbusters of 2022? Though Bullet Train has a stacked cast including Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock, Zazie Beetz, Michael Shannon, Joey King and plenty more, alongside Henry and Taylor-Johnson, there’s no word yet on who might be playing Sir Topham Hatt – or if the titular super-speed train will spring to life at any point, complete with chubby cheeks and cute smile. Would watch…?
Read Empire’s full Bullet Train story in the Summer Preview issue, on sale Thursday 12 May and available to pre-order here. Bullet Train comes to UK cinemas from 29 July.