Looking for an antidote this July Fourth weekend to that gargantuan piece of shit Transformers: Age of OH, FUCK YOU? Why not check in with Snowpiercer, a far-fetched piece of environmental/existential action silliness that serves up more thrills in its two hours than Transformers does at nearly 50 percent longer.
(I’m not in the habit of shitting on one movie while reviewing another, but Transformers is Michael Bay, and he’s immune to criticism…and it’s fun! So whatever.)
Snowpiercer takes place roughly 18 years after the world has been thrust into a new ice age. All the survivors boarded a train called Snowpiercer, and the train circles the globe once a year. (The train is called Snowpiercer because it can break through any ice and snow gathered on the track without threat of derailment.)
And because this future is dystopian, the train has a class system. In what is essentially steerage (but worse), there’s the poor, led by Gilliam (John Hurt) and his second-in-command, Curtis (Chris Evans). Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer and Ewen Bremner are hanging around there, too.
The rabble is fed protein bars by the richies at the head of the train. Any messages from the rich are filtered through Mason (Tilda Swinton, delightfully hammy), and she dispenses justice, too, aided by armed guards.
Gilliam hatches a long-gestating plot to get to the front of the train to take down Wilford (Ed Harris), the train’s designer, who likes to keep the population balanced. With Curtis leading the physical charge, Gilliam is convinced they can make it to the front, take over and get the poor some relief.
If only it were that simple. Curtis and his crew manage to start the revolution, but have trouble finishing it, and that’s where the nasty fun comes in. It’s terrifically violent and even a little nasty, but who says a good action movie has to be PG-13?
The journey through the train and the twists and turns it takes—which aren’t groundbreaking, but still work—is a big part of the fun. There are several action scenes that are some of the best I’ve seen in years, including an encounter between the poors and a bunch of soldiers in a blacked-out train car and another in a steam room between several of the principal players. And Alison Pill has a dynamite scene as a bright-eyed schoolteacher in the rich section of the train.
Snowpiercer looks good, too, with expert staging and camera work, and it’s bizarre that such an expensive, well-made action movie by one of South Korea’s most celebrated filmmakers would be playing in art houses. But at least you can get a cappuccino instead of Diet Coke.
Lastly, Evans does well in this non-Captain America role, and it’s a solid reminder of his talents beyond Marvel Comics (see also: The Iceman and Sunrise). Plus, he gives a speech in the movie’s final reel that, if you saw it on paper, would make your eyes roll. Evans pulls it off, and shows you why he’s a movie star, and why the people want to follow Curtis. Forget Transformers: Age of LOUD NOISES, and stick with Snowpiercer.
Directed by Joon-ho Bong
With Evans, Hurt and Spencer