Snowpiercer is an usual movie, and there’s no better cure for summer blockbuster fatigue. It’s as fun and action packed as any of those movies, will give you something to think about, and is interesting and different stylistically. There’s basically nothing more you can ask out of a movie, except perhaps a little more coherence. The film is really messy, and more than a bit unbelievable, but it’s so interesting that this doesn’t really become too much of a problem.
In a post-apocalyptic future, the planet Earth has been turned into a frozen uninhabitable wasteland in a failure to combat global warming. All of humanity is trapped aboard a self-sustaining train that’s circling the globe once every year. A social structure develops on the train in which the people at the back are completely subservient to the people in the front. The people at the front experience wealth and leisure while the people at the back are barely able to stay alive. Curtis (Chris Evans) is pushed into leading a rebellion by Gillam (John Hurt). As the rebels make their way to the front of the train to gain control of the all important engine, new information changes their understanding about the train’s social structure.
The film has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the cast. Most of them end of getting killed off sooner rather than later, and the sheer multitude of them leaves most of them to serve as examples of the hardship of living in the tail section of the train than actual characters. However, that’s not really a bad thing; it works quite well. The hardships these people are in more than make up for any lack of characterization; you can definitely still sympathize with them. Jamie Bell is the gung-ho second in command to Curtis and Octavia Spencer and Ewen Bremner play distraught parents whose children have been stolen away from them. There’s another guy who’s great at some type of martial arts, and Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko play a train engineer and his daughter who help Curtis and gang to the front of the train. On the evil side, you have a demonic school teacher played by Alison Pill, a huge guy who refuses to die even after sustaining extensive injuries, and last but not least, Tilda Swinton, chewing scenery like you’ve never seen her chew scenery before.
More than a few interesting things happen as the group moves to the front of the train. They encounter more and more violence, which is way more graphic than most American movies, but still spares us a bit with quick editing in spots. The changes in setting are what really interested me. From an aquarium that is suspended overhead to club scenes, we see basically every setting imaginable on this train. Makes sense, because the train is literally an entire world. Awkward things happen with the pacing though, as we spend a lot of time in some places and just breeze through others. Sometimes they’re rushing through a car trying to stay alive, and others they’re content to stop and talk about the problems in society and so on, effectively stopping the action in its tracks. Nevertheless, I really like how information is released during their journey to the front of the train. When they’re stuck in the tail they don’t know anything, but when they get to the front, those that are left that is, know it all.
The film has been criticized for its heavy handed symbolism, but I really don’t see this as a problem. If a movie has as powerful of a point to make as this one, and keeps the plot moving to keep us occupied, it can be as heavy handed as it wants. The themes are basic and so is the way they are presented, but I think it’s fine. It shows how actual humans justify these types of regimes. There’s not much subtlety needed in the middle of a revolution. At the beginning of the film I may have harbored some of these concerns, but they were soon silenced. A bigger problem with the film, which isn’t a problem if you watch it correctly, is how outlandish the world is. The whole thing felt very unbelievable to me, which of course it is, but even though the specifics of the situation (self-sustaining train circling the globe and whatnot) are outlandish, the look into human nature isn’t.
If you do choose to see this movie, which I suggest you should, I can almost guarantee that you will be talking and/or thinking about it for a while. That is not the case with many of the summer movies you see nowadays. Even if the film doesn’t work for you, I’m sure you’ll find it interesting on some level. To me, that’s almost better than it being perfect.
“Know your place. Accept your place. Be a shoe.”
Long story short: 3.5/4 stars
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