Movie Review - Snowpiercer

Song Kang-Ho in "Snowpiercer"
Director and co-writer Bong Joon-Ho adapted the French graphic novel "Le Transperceneige" by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette. It's set in 2031 on board a train known as the Rattling Ark, which is not unlike Noah's Ark. Instead of being a vessel to survive a worldwide flood, the Rattling Ark is a vessel to survive a worldwide freeze. A man-made, ice age has devastated the entire land, and the train stays in perpetual motion, circling the globe on a track that was built to revolve the Earth in one year. If anyone leaves the train, they would almost immediately freeze to death.

Chris Evans stars as Curtis, a man who is forced to live in the dirtiest, grimiest, smelliest and poorest section, which is the back of the train. Curtis plots with fellow passengers in the back like Edgar, played by Jamie Bell, Tonya, played by Octavia Spencer, and Gilliam, played by John Hurt, to move to the front of the train.

Tilda Swinton co-stars as Minister Mason, the representative of those who live in the front of the train. She commands armed soldiers who keep Curtis and his friends in the back through fear of violence or death. She preaches a caste system, comprised of two groups, the haves and have-nots, the rich and the poor.

The movie follows Curtis' rebellion and his attempt to overthrow the leaders of the front and provide for those in the back who are given little food, clean water or amenities at all. They advance from train car to train car, engaging in fierce battles almost every step along the way.

Joon-Ho maintains a fairly good momentum. The only good choreography is toward the beginning when Curtis and his crew make their first move. It was well-thought out and well-executed. From then on, the majority of it is people hacking and shooting at each other in a confined space with not much grace or cleverness. There was a moment of comedy but not much else.

Movies that deal with similar themes have been Total Recall (1990) and Elysium (2013). This movie rises above those slightly with great performances. Swinton steals half the show. She's comic relief. Evans has a knockout moment at the end, not proving but reinforcing he can deliver a good dramatic performance. Song Kang-Ho (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) who plays Namgoong and Ko Ah-Sung (The Host) who plays his daughter Yona are surprises as well.

The movie had a lot of predictable moments. Even a lot of moments that were meant to be genuine shocks aren't. The ending is where the movie falls apart though. It has what I'll refer to as The Matrix Reloaded ending with Neo meeting the Architect.

This is probably spoilers, but Curtis learns that he hasn't been exercising free will. He's been more or less a puppet. The problem is the puppeteer, Mr. Wilford, played by Ed Harris. The conspiracy Wilford explains and the plot twist are ridiculous. He's essentially using war as population control, when why bother with the elaborate conspiracy? He could just kill people.

The true conflict comes between Curtis and Namgoong. I would have preferred never having met Wilford. I understand that Curtis meeting Wilford is used as a way of completing his redemption, but the tone of the movie suggests that was never really a big concern. The movie at least could have achieved Curtis' redemption in other ways.

The very final shot is what I'll refer to as the Children of Men final shot. Two characters are alone and in a bleak situation but then something is seen in the distance that is meant to evoke hope. Unlike Alfonso CuarĂ³n's film, this one is never driven by hope. It's driven more by revenge.

There was also a lot of missed opportunities for the filmmakers to allow us to know or understand the population that lives in the front of the train, or what they think or feel. I suppose that they're all just supposed to be puppets or Wilford's drones, much like Alison Pill's character.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for violence, language and drug content.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 7 mins.

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