Remember the year 2013? Do you remember all the great science fiction we were blessed with last year? Do you remember “Oblivion,” “Elysium,” “Europa Report,” “Pacific Rim,” among others? Last year was a great year for science fiction and I think 2014 might end up being another good year for the genre. After “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” over the weekend, I thought that was priceless science fiction, and “Snowpiercer” is yet another unbelievable science fiction film.
“Snowpiercer” maybe a small movie, but it is rich in detail. It is a movie that is both emotionally demanding and visually stunning. It features twists and turns that never feel cheated, never feel forced and catch the audience off guard. I will admit that the story is a bit confusing in the beginning, but “Snowpiercer” is smart, confident and stylish in a way I haven’t seen in quite awhile. All of this is brought to life by a convincing, diverse ensemble of actors who make us believe in the world they create and believe in the characters they play. This is what science fiction was always about; it challenges your brain while also challenging your ability to obtain powerful images. “Snowpiercer” has the power to do that in spades.
In 2014, several nations release a chemical into the air in order to preserve the Earth from global warming. What actually happens is they speed up another Ice Age for Earth, which results in the deaths of nearly every human being on the planet. The survivors inhabit a massive train called the “Snowpiercer” which is powered by perpetual-motion engines and travels on a global spanning track. A class system is created with the rich and powerful inhabiting the front of the train and the poor inhabiting the back of the train. Much like all science fiction, the two class systems do not get along very well. The film picks up in 2031, where Curtis Everett (Chris Evans) is planning a rebellion with Gilliam (John Hurt) and several of the poor inhabitants of the train. Despite several rebellions already attempted and failed, Curtis is determined to lead his people against the elite and bring a new life to the train. He breaks out somebody who knows designs of the train whom was imprisoned, named Namoong (Song Kang-ho) and his gal pal Yona (Go Ah-sung) and together, they help Curtis toward his glorious revolution.
The entire movie is an adrenaline-fueled push to the front of the train and of course there are some crazy situations that lay before the rebels. There are some night-vision guards who wield hatchets; there is a crazy teacher with a machine gun, and a creepy Frenchman who never seems to die. Director Bong Joon-ho makes very good use of incredible action in the film, and even though much of the combat is close quarters (nearly the entire film takes place on the massive train.), there is uniqueness to the way Joon-ho shoots the action. “Snowpiercer” is a gritty, sometimes woozy science fiction film, but Bong Joon-ho creates thrilling iconography throughout much of the movie. There are not too many scenes with special effects, but the scenes that do feature CGI are well utilized here.
Much like Channing Tatum, I did not like Chris Evans when I initially started seeing him in movies. I thought he was just another pretty-boy actor who would never amount to anything. Something changed in him when he threw on the red, white and blue to play Captain America for Marvel, and I have been anticipating his presence in films ever since. Evans delivers yet another epic performance. Curtis is a much different hero compared to Captain America, he’s a man willing to get his hands dirty, to sacrifice even his best friends for the greater good. His behavior is not exactly noble in some parts of the movie, but Evans creates an undeniable presence as Curtis.
The rest of the cast is solid, no matter how big or small their roles are. I thought both Song Kang-ho and Go Ah-sung were to major discoveries in this movie, and I hope I can see more of them in the future. Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, Ewen Bremner and Ed Harris also appear in the film, and they each give a remarkable performance which only enriches the film. I do love Tilda Swinton as Mason, an evil elitist who ends up helping Curtis’ forces. Swinton has proved that she can be good or bad, and I think she found grand delight in playing a creepy weasel in this movie. I also have to give a shout out to Alison Pill who reunites with Evans from “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.” She only has one scene but it the most bombastic human performance in the entire movie that I wanted to stand up and applaud. With a movie that is this rich in performances, it is tough to decide who your favorite character is, and it is truly a good problem to have.
While the film is a bit confusing at the beginning, everything gets explained in an orderly fashion by the end of the movie and I think the films twists will be well-worth the journey. I also think the film does a good job of keeping the film moving at a steady pace and it never once feels like a movie that is over two hours. “Snowpiercer” is a huge highlight for the wonderful cast and a bold statement for director Bong Joon-ho, something I think I’ll be thinking about all year long now.
FINAL GRADE: A