In his English-language debut, South Korean director Bong Joon-ho (“Mother,” “Memories of Murder”) creates an ambitious and unique sci-fi movie in the form of “Snowpiercer.” The film itself is a fresh breath of air compared to the flux of the typical summer blockbuster that either features unstopable superheroes or shape-shifting robots.
In the near future, it was decided that the only way to solve the global warming crisis is to launch a missile into space. However, the plan backfired and the missile lead to the world to freeze and killing all of humanity except for the people on a huge train that has been circling Earth.
13 years after the extinction of humanity, the poor and sick inhabitants of the train are relegated to live in the rear cars and forced to eat gelatinous blocks of unknown origins three times a day, while the rich are living it up dwelling near the front of the train. There have been attempts to rebel against the upper class, but they all have ended in failure. When a man named Curtis (Chris Evans) noticed that the armed guards do not have bullets, he enlists the help of his mentor (John Hurt), his second-in-command (Jamie Bell) and a drug-addicted security expert (Kang-ho Song) to organize another revolt in order to take control of the train and overthrow its conductor, Wilford.
Based on a French graphic novel and adapted by Jong-ho and screenwriter Kelly Masterson (“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”), “Snowpiercer” is a dazzling futuristic thriller that is just as smart as it is exciting.
For the first time in his career, Jong-ho has A-list Hollywood actors at his disposal. It is a relief to see that he does not take them for granted as he utilize them in a way that allows their talents to shine through. Evans delivers his strongest performance yet by showing the different facets of a man who is hesitant to become a leader due to his dark past that is explained in a terrific and powerful monologue. However, it is Tilda Swinton who steals every scene she is in with her role as a snotty bureaucratic and Wilford’s right-hand woman. Her condescending attitude is showcased in the opening scene where she explains to the lower-class citizens how the upper class citizens are the hat of the train and they are the shoe of the train.
Kudos goes to production designer Ondrej Nekvasil for not only helping Jong-ho’s vivid and consistent future world come to life. Nekvasil’s vision for this environment allows him to give each train compartment that Curtis and his crew advance through their own personality whether it is a classroom (which becomes a setting for the most gonzo sequence of the movie that features Allison Pill from “The Newsroom”) or a nightclub. Speaking of compartments, most of these train cars are also the setting of several bloody confrontations including hand-to-hand combat in an enclosed space and a showdown featuring a unique mix of night goggles, bladed instruments of destruction and fire.
There are times where “Snowpiercer” does get a little too close in wallowing in the heavy-handed issue of the rich versus the poor, a subject that was similarly tackled by another summer movie, “Elysium.” However, it does not linger throughout the movie like “Elysium” and it kind of becomes a second-nature in the storytelling as the plot progresses. The third act does go on a little too long for its own good despite a shattering revelation that would give you a second thought on Curtis’ mission and goal.
While this cool flick is available on VOD, “Snowpiercer” is the type of movie that begs to be seen in a theater. It is also the type of movie we need from our current and upcoming crop of blockbusters that are coming out of Hollywood: a film that is not afraid to be both an action-packed and intelligent cinematic adventure.
“Snowpiercer” is now playing exclusively at the Miami Beach Cinematheque.