“Snowpiercer” continues the trend of witty science fiction releases this summer. Hailing from South Korean director Bong Joon-ho, “Snowpiercer” is based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige. Featuring a star-studded cast, poignant social commentary, and unique, cartoonish visuals, it’s an absolute must see.
The film begins with a brief overview of a global warming prevention gone wrong, explaining that all life on Earth was killed. Civilization’s last survivors are found on the Snowpiercer, a train designed to continuously travel along a worldwide track. Aboard the train is a heavily stratified caste system, with the lower class relegated to the back of the train while the upper classes enjoy the luxurious front sections. The year is 2031, and the restless inhabitants of the shanty town secretly plan a revolt. Led by the brooding Curtis (Chris Evans), aided by sidekick Edgar (Jamie Bell), and the elderly Gilliam (John Hurt), they receive mysterious messages from an unknown source.
Tired of being fed protein blocks and having their children stolen, Curtis initiates his uprising, spearheading a charge to take the engine. After defeating the guards during a regular protein block delivery, Curtis, Edgar, Gilliam and company begin slogging their way car by car toward the front. In tow as a hostage is the wacky Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton). They break out the incarcerated Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho) and his daughter Yona (Go Ah-sung), both addicts of the highly flammable drug Kronol. Namgoong, who built the train, agrees to open the doors one by one and in exchange Curtis offers him a block of Kronol for each door breached.
As the party progresses, they’re met with several intimidating adversaries including a car filled with masked riot police dressed foes. A bloody battle worthy of Quentin Tarantino proportions ensues, and many of Curtis’ faithful perish. Battered but not beaten, they continue the march, encountering amenities such as an aquarium, sushi bar, school, and even saunas. Eventually they prevail in reaching the engine car, which jumpstarts an entirely new chapter in the “Snowpiercer” saga.
The spectacular, excruciating pilgrimage from the caboose to the engine drops a steady stream of reveals, making the film a progressive epiphany. There’s the apparent class struggle, which bears undeniable similarities to movies like “Elysium,” and “District 9.” However, “Snowpiercer” differentiates itself through the ingrained complexity. The prevalent shades of grey exist not merely in the bleak scenery and industrial, Geiger-esque train interior, but in the characters themselves. In “Snowpiercer,” there are no true heroes.
Thankfully, Bong Joon-ho’s adaptation avoids the heavy-handed socio-political commentary that plagues far too many well-meaning flicks. Don’t expect an “Avatar” berating. Rather, “Snowpiercer” opts for a subtle approach, leaving nuggets for viewers to digest. There’s a wonderful scene parodying parochial schooling, and Chris Evan’s perturbed face is absolutely priceless. It speaks paragraphs without Evans even opening his bearded mouth. The upper class carriages present a romp through excess-loving cultures of varying decades including the 20’s, and even feature a hilarious parody of modern club culture.
Acting further separates “Snowpiercer” from the doldrums, generic summer movie releases. Chris Evans leads not only the lower class rebels but the cast. A role drastically opposing his Captain America persona, Evans trades his earnest enthusiasm for a brooding grittiness and determination. Jamie Bell, who starred in the hit AMC series “Turn,” plays a loyal second in command, proving his big-screen worth. The always enthralling John Hurt once again delivers a phenomenal performance as Gilliam, a universally revered elder. Ed Harris, who receives far too little screen time, chillingly depicts the shadowy conductor Wilford. Song Kang-ho and Go Ah-sung play the father-daughter team to perfection, each uniquely similar. Kang-ho maintains an commendably drugged out appearance, working in conjunction with Ah-sung’s alert clairvoyance. Finally, Tilda Swinton steals scenes as the quirky Minister Mason, and offers incredibly sparse moments of (darkly) comic relief.
With a gripping narrative and seasoned cast, the question isn’t whether to watch “Snowpiercer,” but rather how many times. The tense finale is driven heavily by dialogue, and completely alters viewer perception of the preceding events. A second viewing actually adds to one’s understanding, armed now with the knowledge of what’s really happening. Brilliant visuals and animation create an industrial setting, and the film shines with a Kubrickian surrealist veneer. “Snowpiercer” is not merely one of the greatest releases of the summer, but one of the best film productions to date. A true sci-fi masterpiece, “Snowpiercer” demands a screening, and is bound to leave you pondering thoughtfully long after the credits fade out.