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Movie Review: 'Snowpiercer' (2013)



It may not be getting the same big marketing push as other summer sci-fi blockbusters, but 'Snowpiercer', the new film from South-Korean film director Boon Joon-Ho has been getting critical acclaim, which currently rests at a sterling 94% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Chris Evans and Ed Harris in 'Snowpiercer'
Chris Evans and Ed Harris in 'Snowpiercer'

So it was with much anticipation that I went to see the film for myself; but I'm truly mystified by what the fuss is all about. 'Snowpiercer' is based off the French graphic novel 'Le Transperceneige', and it has a lot of things seemingly going for it; director Joon-Ho helmed the intriguing films 'The Host' and 'Mother' and it boasts a stellar cast, with 'Captain America's' Chris Evans as the lead, and supporting roles from esteemed actors like Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, and Ed Harris.

But all these strong elements, do not a great movie make. The premise is largely the problem; in 2031 life has become extinct on Earth. It's a virtual new Ice Age, caused by drastic measures to curb global warming. But there are a few scant survivors, who survive on the Snowpiercer, a massive train that circles the entirety of the Earth, and packed with all the elements needed for human survival.

The train serves as a caste microcosm; the richest live up front in the luxury cars, dining on fine food, while the poor live at the back, covered in their own filth and eating protein bars filled with yucky components.

Evans plays Curtis Everett, a man determined to make it to the front of train, and regain control so that everyone has a chance at the good life. He has a mentor named Gilliam (John Hurt) who helps him decipher cryptic messages passed from a mysterious figure to learn more about how to eventually break the system and pass the armed guards to freedom.

The name Gilliam is telling; by it's fanciful looks and dystopian revolt setting, 'Snowpiercer' is a clear homage to the films of director Terry Gilliam such as 'Brazil' and '12 Monkeys', but it lacks the internal logic, humor, and compassionate characters to ever equate.

The dialogue espoused by Everett is meant to conjure feeling of disgust and empathy, but they're unintentionally comical. Actress Tilda Swinton is unbearably grating as a figure of order, and actors like Hurt, Jamie Bell and Harris are wasted in their roles.

Perhaps the most interesting character is Minsoo played by 'Oldboy' actor Kang-Ho Song, a drug addicted malcontent who is able to sneak the oppressed further up the train; his mischievous demeanor adds the only faint hint of humor to the proceedings.

Poor effects, and sub-par fight sequences also help suck the life out of the proceedings, but it's just the illogical nature of the story that rips away any suspension of disbelief. Buying into the initial premise is hard enough, but the exceedingly ridiculous turns of events that follows make every character seem like an idiot, and leads to a Willy Wonka like conclusion that collapses on its conceit, and ends on a note that is meant to be hopeful but that equates to a vast waste of the viewers time, pulling the rug out of the storyline, and offering no payoff whatsoever.

'Snowpiercer' only runs 126 minutes, but it feels like an eternity. There is no deep message to be found in the film that isn't telegraphed a mile away, and it's as emotionally vacant as a Michael Bay film, despite it's art-house pretensions. It fails as a significant milestone in dystopian filmmaking, or as a basic genre exercise, which is truly criminal, because it had all the components to be a much better film.