Directed by Joon-ho Bong
Written by Joon-ho Bong and Kelly Masterson; based on Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette
Cast: Starring Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, and Ah-sung Ko.
Length: 2 hours and 6 minutes
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Science fiction
MPAA Rating: R
Description from IMDB:
“Set in a future where a failed climate-change experiment kills all life on the planet except for a lucky few who boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system emerges.”
Snowpiercer takes place in a post-apocalyptic world; the earth has become frozen over after humans tried to turn back climate-change, and the only remaining survivors 17 years later live aboard a train that perpetually travels around the world. The poor live in the tail of the train while the rich live at its head. A rebellion, led by Curtis (Chris Evans) and Gilliam (John Hurt), begins as the down-trodden fight their way to control the train. The rebels need to break out a security expert (Kang-ho Song) in order to move ahead; he agrees on the condition that he is paid in Kronole, a flammable drug, and his daughter (Ah-sung Ko) must be allowed to come with. As the rag-tag group makes its way through the train, uncomfortable truths come to light and the passengers question everything they thought they knew.
We learn that the previous revolutions failed because they were never able to take the engine, so Curtis and Gilliam make this the end-goal of their plan. They work off of mysterious, red letters smuggled in their food rations from someone farther up the train that give instructions for how to move forward. In the preparation stage of the film, we see that Curtis has a storied and mysterious past; he is determined to take control of the train at whatever the cost, but doesn’t want to take responsibility of leadership. He is admired by Edgar (Jamie Bell), a younger passenger with no memory of life before the train, but finds the attention grating.
Much of the film’s action comes in the form of close-in melee fighting. We see Curtis go berserk with blood-lust and become single-minded in his goals while fighting ax-wielding soldiers and pursuing Mason (Tilda Swinton), his ticket to moving further up the train. Though there is a lot of shaky camera-work used in order to evoke a feeling of urgency and chaos during the fights, there are a few standout long-takes which change up the pacing. Some slow motion is used, but it isn’t overbearing in the Zack Snyder sense, and it allows the viewer to see more of what is going on instead of spastic images of weapons and arms flailing about.
When the fighting ceases, the disparity between classes and the social structure of the train take center stage. There is a stark contrast between the tail and front sections; the tail is made up of slum-like, dirty conditions. The front half of the train contains sections with gardens, an aquarium, a dance club, a swimming pool, and a nursery/school. Propaganda is used to keep the lower class in its place while indoctrination begins in the school where children are taught to worship Wilford (Ed Harris), the “Divine Keeper of The Sacred Engine”. The few who are in power continue to dictate the lives of the many by virtue of their position and cow the masses into subservience by attributing their survival to an ecosystem that relies upon all parts being in their places.
The twist at the end is believable due to clues left throughout the film, and Snowpiercer wraps up in such a way that is optimistic and poetic. There are some tropes that show up; there is a bad guy who simply refuses to stay dead and Curtis is very much the reluctant hero, but these don’t distract from the overall effect of the film. Snowpiercer is a thought-provoking action film that is entertaining without asking too much of the viewer. The premise is solid, if a bit on the nose, and the execution is as believable as a non-stop, global train can be. It isn’t the best movie in its genre, but it is a decent addition to the collection of films that take place in a bleak future.
Verdict: 3 intense melees out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of post-apocalyptic movies, fans of action movies with a bit of a message, and fans of Joon-ho Bong.
Not recommended for: Train enthusiasts, those who dislike snow being pierced, people who don’t like severed limbs, or those unable to suspend their disbelief to enjoy a story.