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Confronting the Misogyny of ‘Bullet Train’: Will There Ever Be Good Female Roles In Action Films?

‘Bullet Train’ (2022) is wildly entertaining, but it’s clear that it doesn’t want women to join in.

Ladybug (Brad Pitt) stealthily holds a briefcase on a train pin the movie bullet train
Credit: Bullet Train/Sony Pictures

‘Bullet Train’ (2022) is wildly entertaining, but it’s clear that it doesn’t want women to join in.

David Leitch’s latest movie ‘Bullet Train’ is a certified romp. It’s a high-octane, action-packed movie that promises not only stunning visuals but plenty of laughs too. Not to mention some super creative – and bloody – action sequences. The only issue is, underneath all the witty humor and gore, the women of ‘Bullet Train’ get sorely left behind.

‘Bullet Train’ reads as a disavowal of all things female. In the film, women are either side-lined. Or trying to run away from their femininity as fast as possible. At best, ‘Bullet Train’ uses femininity as an odd aesthetic. At worst, as something to weaponize, to sexualize.

Credit: Bullet Train/Sony Pictures

It follows that while two of the film’s main assassins are, in fact, women, they’re both undercut in some manner. The first: the aptly nicknamed ‘Prince’ (Joey King), is a hyper-feminine assassin who strives to get away from her femininity. And whose feminity becomes a weapon when the film so wills it. The second, the ‘Hornet’ (Zazie Beetz), is only seen in the film for approximately 3 minutes. Despite the critical role she plays. 

In this sense, it’s clear that ‘Bullet Train’ battles against women just as much as any expected foe. And that it represents an already-thriving epidemic in the action genre. In action, women are often presented only as beautiful sidepieces for men – think the Bond women, for example. Or they’re pushed to the forefront while the film tries to ignore or justify their femininity. 

‘Bullet Train’ has much to say about how women are still presented in action films. And the work that still needs to be done to offer women more fulfilling roles. 

The Prince

The Prince is a hyper-feminine assassin. She’s outfitted in all-pink. Her weaponry consists of both a gun and some explosive hair ties. But, her whole motive is to prove herself worthy to her father. She is note ‘not like other girls.’ At least, that’s what ‘Bullet Train’ really wants you to think.

Credit: Bullet Train/Sony Pictures

The real issue with Prince is that her character presents feminity as a weapon. Prince uses her cutesy, saccharine look to manipulate the male-ensemble members to do her will. This could be interpreted as a subversion of the classic female-action role – i.e., the damsel in distress caricature. (Male expectations are undermined.) But, the implication remains that hyper-femininity like this must serve some purpose. It can’t be real or for show.

It wouldn’t be good enough for King’s character to strut about in pink and cry. At least, not without being some kind of machiavellian villain. Which she undeniably is. It’s evident that ‘Bullet Train’ seems comfortable only with femininity if it can justify it.

Credit: Bullet Train/Sony Pictures

Or, worst come to worst, if it can sexualize it. It’s not a coincidence that Prince is fitted in an outfit reminiscent of a school girl. Or that one scene that exposes her villainous motive includes a perverse frame. Hedged by some dodgy camera work, the shot that hones in on Prince’s gun seems like it’s about to creep up her skirt.

Looking at Prince, it’s clear that ‘Bullet Train’ has some big gripes with femininity. And that it is, unfortunately, not unlike many other action films. The film comes under the same bracket as those seeking to weaponize – or even worse, to sexualize – femininity.

The Hornet

The film’s other female assassin: the ‘Hornet,’ is woefully under-used. The Hornet is kept under wraps for a lot of ‘Bullet Train.’ She’s almost indelibly stuck to the background. While the rest of the killer ensemble traipse around the train, the Hornet schemes from behind. 

Credit: Bullet Train/Sony Pictures

This is not to say that she doesn’t have a massive role in the film – or isn’t a great addition. During the film’s solid 126-minute runtime, the Hornet runs rings around the audience. She manages to disguise herself in three different costumes. At various points in the film, she’s a kindly train server, a chef, and a mascot.

Indeed, the Hornet is the catalyst for much of the conflict in ‘Bullet Train’. And with snake poison as her weapon of choice, when she is in the film, she’s pretty threatening. One of the film’s most tense action sequences is between the Hornet and Ladybug (Brad Pitt). Throughout the scene, Pitt battles ferociously against the Hornet. All while she attempts to inject him with lethal snake poison.

It’s a wild moment. But, unfortunately, that’s all it is. Just one moment. This sequence lasts approximately 3 minutes – and ends with the Hornet dead. Despite all the build-up, it’s clear to see that the Hornet doesn’t last for long at all. Instead, ‘Bullet Train’ seems keen to get rid of her.

Brad Pitt with a needle held to his mouth in bullet train.
Credit: Bullet Train/Sony Pictures

The underlying implication is that ‘Bullet Train’ isn’t so interested in uplifting its’ women. Instead, Leitch seems more content to have a male ensemble and only one female killer. After the Hornet is quickly killed, the audience is left to look up to Prince. The consequence here is clear. Women seem to be, quite easily, left behind in ‘Bullet Train.’

Conclusions

‘Bullet Train’ is a high-energy film, but one that doesn’t free up much space for its female passengers. It’s unfortunate that other than Prince and the Hornet, the only other women in the film are mothers or wives. Women who prove to be nothing more than props to a plot that is already, by and large, propelled by men.

Leitch’s film runs at speed away from anything and everything feminine. And, when it does acknowledge it, ‘Bullet Train’ only manipulates it – using it as a perverse weapon. To this degree, it’s evident that the film represents a rather serious issue, especially in the action genre. It shows that much more needs to be done (and fast) so women can finally have significant and satisfying roles on-screen.

Written By

I'm an English Lit student in my final year of study. I enjoy dissecting pop culture, as well as thinking way too much about film, books, and TV. You can likely find me talking about some new release or another - or gushing about 'Everything Everywhere All At Once'.

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