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New Review: Snowpiercer (2014)
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Cast: Chris Evans, Jamie, Bell, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, Tilda Swinton, Kang-go Song, Ah-sung Ko, Ed Harris
The basic premise of Snowpiercer is this: In the year 2014, a chemical named CW7 was released into the atmosphere by government officials to counter the effects of global warming. It was simply meant to lower the Earth's temperatures. What it did instead was it sent the planet into a second ice age. Millions were killed by the sub-freezing temperatures, and those who survived boarded the titular super train that's the brainchild of a mysterious man named Wilford. Because the train's engine has been designed to last forever, and because it's too cold to go outside (anyone who tries will freeze to death in a matter of minutes), humanity is doomed to spend their remaining days circumnavigating the globe inside the Snowpiercer.
Post-apocalyptic thrillers usually come with goofy premises, especially if said thriller is based on a comic book (which this movie is). That's okay. There have been many good movies that were based on goofy ideas. However, the idea behind Snowpiercer isn't simply goofy or silly. It's just plain laughable. Apparently, it was mankind's enormous stupidity that brought on the second ice age, and it is mankind's stupidity that will, somehow, keep us alive for the next 18 years. Seriously, if a second ice age were to occur, I'd like to think we'd have a better means of survival than simply boarding a super train.
The train is divided by social classes, with the upper class citizens inhabiting the posh front part of the train, while the lower class is forced to reside in the windowless, grungy tail end. The poor people are fed protein bars made out of cockroaches. The rich people dine on fine meals like sushi and steak (although where they got the cows from to make their steaks is a mystery). The lower class are mercilessly abused by the upper class. One man has his arm forced outside of the train, where it turns into an ice cube and is shattered with a hammer. Several children are taken away from their parents, for reasons that aren't revealed until the end of the picture.
Wilford and the rest of the upper class citizens treat the lower class with such disdain that you can't help but wonder why they even allowed them on the train in the first place. The answer, of course, is because Snowpiercer is a not at all subtle allegory for social classes and class division, and without them, there wouldn't be a movie. They are simply there for the convenience of the screenwriters. Chris Evans stars as the tough-as-nails Curtis, who leads a revolt against the upper class and plans to murder the train's maker Wilford. Once done, he plans to let the legless, one armed Gilliam (John Hurt) take control of the train.
The journey from the rear of the train to the front leads to a couple of entertaining action scenes. The best involves a room full of axe-wielding baddies with night vision goggles that are put to good use once the train goes through a tunnel (uh-oh!). The one set-piece that doesn't work at all involves a shoot-out between two characters in two separate cars as the train circles a curve on the tracks. They keep shooting at each other through the windows, and through it all, all I could think was, won't that let the deadly subzero air in? Are these guys trying to kill themselves?
Snowpiercer is the work of director Bong Joon-ho, the acclaimed Korean filmmaker of movies like Mother and The Host. To his credit, he creates a terrific looking movie. The train itself is a marvel of art direction and set design. I especially liked the train car that serves as an aquarium, as well as the class room that's taught by a pregnant, machine gun wielding teacher played by a hilarious Alison Pill. The many shots of the outside world are also impressive, especially when the train passes by the frozen remains of a major city.
The movie also benefits from an A-list cast. There's Jamie Bell as Curtis's adoring friend Edgar, Octavia Spencer as Tanya, a woman determined to get her son back from Wilford, and the hilariously over-the-top Tilda Swinton as Mason, Wilford's toothless henchwoman. Kang-go Song and Ah-sung Ko offer solid support as the drug addicted father and daughter who help our heroes break through the train's security doors. Then, there's Chris Evans, who turns in a grim yet watchable performance as Curtis, even during the unintentionally hilarious scene where he confesses to cannibalism, and is made to say things like "The thing that makes me feel the most shame is, I know that babies taste the best!"
The movie has an ending that is so hopeless and depressing, that when the movie's "hopeful" final shot finally comes around, I didn't buy it for a second. In fact, I was left thinking, "Huh?" Snowpiercer currently holds a solid 94% on Rottentomatoes, and is hailed as a terrific entertainment by the majority of those who've seen it. Everyone's entitled to their opinion, and some of you may think that I've missed the mark here by a country mile. You may be right. I'll admit that the movie has things about it to admire, but on the whole, I thought it was simply a dopey and tedious action picture.
Rated R for strong violence, language, and some drug use
Final Grade: ** (out of ****)
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Other thoughts on Snowpiercer (2014)
- Snowpiercer | Film Review | Slant Magazine
Bong Joon-ho's film preaches resolutely to the choir, and cinephiles in sync with the film's politics may still blanch at how snugly their interests are courted.
- Dustin Putman's Review: Snowpiercer (2014)
Snowpiercer (2014) - 3.5/4 Stars - A rich, ravishing experience, a motion picture dripping in social consciousness and thematic intricacy without becoming preachy or losing sight of its other purpose as a rousing, robust entertainment. 'Snowpiercer'
- Snowpiercer Movie Review & Film Summary (2014) | Roger Ebert