It’s been quite a year for science fiction. Whereas Transcendence and Transformers 4 were missteps, I am still reveling from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Edge of Tomorrow. And let’s not forget about X-Men: Days of Future Past, a brilliant sci-fi flick disguised as a superhero movie. Snowpiercer is a science fiction film I have been eagerly anticipating for months. Debuting in South Korea in 2013, director Bong Joon-ho’s latest film has been plagued with various release issues, especially in here in the States. With Harvey Weinstein requesting that certain scenes be cut from the film in order for a wider release and Bong Joon-ho’s denial of that request, we Americans that don’t live near an arthouse theater didn’t get an opportunity to see this movie until recently. I, myself, rented it from iTunes. Another option is On Demand. Whichever method you choose to see Snowpiercer is irrelevant. What is relevant is that you see Snowpiercer. It’s a mesmerizing science fiction feature.
Based on the 1982 French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, Snowpiercer kicks off in the year 2014 when an experiment to counteract global warming goes terribly wrong, resulting in an ice age that kills every living thing on Earth. The only living souls left on the planet are those who have taken shelter on the Snowpiercer, an enormous, never ceasing train that goes around the entire planet one time each year. The privileged are housed in the front of the train, while the underprivileged are housed in the back. Curtis Everett (Chris Evans) is among those in the back of the train. He’s fed up with being forced to eat protein blocks every day for nutrition. He’s tired of being unfairly treated. He wants to know what lies ahead in the train. He has an idea. Those in the back should initiate a revolt and break their way to the Engine Room and confront the operator of the train, the mysterious Wilford. That’s all you need to know about the plot. To say anymore would leave me with a guilty conscience.
Chris Evans leads a superb cast in Snowpiercer, and his performance is nothing short of marvelous. He plays Curtis, the leader of the revolt and the main character of the story and this is, in fact, one of his best performances. Best known for his role as Steve Rodgers and Captain America (see my review for Captain America: The Winter Soldier here), Chris Evans has had a pretty decent career, but I, being the comic book geek that I am, have come to love him since his debut as Cap. He is perfect as Captain America, as The Winter Soldier attested to, but his career best may be in Snowpiercer, where he offers an endless array of emotions. His performance isn’t one that should go unnoticed. In addition to Evans, another wonderful performance is given by a nearly unrecognizable Tilda Swinton. Watch out for her. Also in the film is Jamie Bell, whom I know mainly as the voice of Tintin in Spielberg’s film The Adventures of Tintin. He also plays the lead in AMC’s Turn, which sort of fizzled out after a few episodes. He is excellent in this movie, providing a few great moments as well as some humor, of which the movie is severely lacking. Octavia Spencer has a role that requires physical acting, something she doesn’t get offered that often, and she nails it. John Hurt is also in the movie and I have always been a fan of him so it’s not surprise to say that he is excellent. Song Kang-ho and Go Ah-sung are both very good in the movie and I will say that if you are a fan of the terrific HBO series The Newsroom as I am, there may or not be a little guest star you may recognize in the second half of the movie. But I won’t spoil it, nor will I spoil what happens in the second half.
But Snowpiercer, while certainly full of good performances, isn’t to be experienced for them alone. No, this is a movie made to be seen for the story that unfolds. But not only the story, but the story’s allegories. Much like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and other movies like it, Bong Joon-ho’s film is one with a voice. It attempts to raise serious questions and weave topics such as love, politics, and religion into what seems to be a fascinatingly original action movie. And it is fascinatingly original. I can’t say that I have ever seen a movie quite like this one. The story goes places that I didn’t expect it to. It starts off dark and gritty and steadily becomes quirky and zany. The action sequences, especially one that happens as the train goes through a dark tunnel, are some of the best I’ve seen all year. This and The Raid 2 make up two South Korean films this year alone with absolutely incredible fight scenes. The scenes in the beginning involving the treatment of the lower class is riveting to watch as you see Chris Evans’ character planning the revolt, and when the revolt happens, it just gets better. The only issue the film suffers from is a handful of shots from the outside of the train which, to me, looked a bit too animated when compared to the rest of the movie. They looked good, don’t get me wrong, just out of place. I know this is based on a graphic novel and maybe it was intended to look animated due to the that fact, but I found it to be a bit of an abrupt change that could have used some work.
But when the camera is inside the train, look out. It’s balls-to-the-wall awesome. Literally every scene. There isn’t a dull moment in Snowpiercer. But what makes it standout is not only the performances and the direction. It’s not the consistent action. And no, it isn’t the excellently executed drama. Instead, it is is the allegorical pulse thumping beneath all of that. It touches on topics that are so crucial to human society today. Politics and religion are two of the many topics explored under the film’s surface, and the fashion in which it intertwines those is remarkable. The score by Marco Beltrami (World War Z, Warm Bodies) is stunning. The cinematography by Kyung-pyo Hong is beautiful. And the note on which the movie ends is perfect. Snowpiercer is science fiction entertainment with a heart and soul. Don’t miss it.