Snowpiercer clip B

Review by C.J. Bunce

After a long and clunky path to theaters that we first discussed in our review of the graphic novel source material here at borg.com, Snowpiercer, the highly, almost ludicrously improbable story of a train carrying the last humans on Earth akin to Noah’s Ark is finally in wide release.  With below freezing temperatures and the wind howling across the country this week, it’s a good time to hunker down and take a look at this new home release.

The film sees a lower class of humans living at the back of a giant train that is strangely bigger on the inside as they send a small band to try to get to the front of the train controlled by the wealthy.  Numerous reviews call Snowpiercer an allegory, and that’s completely wrong.  Snowpiercer is literal.  It’s a post-apocalyptic science fiction survival story, not the deep symbolic stuff of Plato or even Orwell.  Snowpiercer–the film–is pretty much devoid of any subtle hidden meanings. It’s overt B-movie sci-fi.  In fact it’s closer to Escape from New York or Logan’s Run than a high-brow philosophical look at life, as it was categorized by many critics on its theatrical release.

Snowpiercer strange cargo

Likewise, don’t try to compare it to the much heralded source material, the black and white graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette reviewed here.  Other than the story being about someone trying to get from the back of a train to the front, it’s pretty much unrecognizable.

Yet if you can watch Snowpiercer for what it is, an action vehicle (no pun intended) for star Chris Evans between big picture roles, then you might agree it’s a winner.

Bouncing back and forth between taunts of a gotcha a la Soylent Green, The Road, or War Games, the movie answers every (simple) question it poses, which is surprisingly satisfying.  Korean director Bong Joon-ho peppers each new train car he breaks through in Panama Joe Atari video game style with enough new questions that you’ll find yourself paying attention for the entire ride, just to get to what ultimate wisdom may be found at story’s end.

Snowpiercer movie poster

At its simplest, Snowpiercer finds star Chris Evans as a determined leader from within, like Chuck Norris in any of his 1970s movies, fighting, killing, and leaving for dead everyone and anyone on his way ahead.  It skips the fomenting stages and goes straight into the first step of the actual rebellion, but it’s not the stuff of the French mobs taking it to the nobility in Les Miserables—there’s just not enough spirited energy, like in V for Vendetta, to get an audience standing and cheering.  Yet surprises in each new car will keep you looking ahead for more.

Along with Evans, always reliable playing a believable and well-meaning leader and growing into a lead of the likes of Kevin Costner or Gary Cooper, we’re introduced to actor Song Kang-ho. Kang-ho skillfully plays a security specialist who has been tranquilized and locked up in a cadaver drawer.  Kang-ho’s range is stunning, and his work here as an over-drugged locksmith could have easily won him a supporting actor nod at the Oscars.

Type-cast but reliable as the character roles they are known for can be found John Hurt, playing the same quirky fellow you’ve seen him play in Skeleton Key, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls, and Doctor Who, and Ed Harris, again playing that philosophical guru we saw him first master in The Truman Show.  The worst of the casting choices is Tilda Swinton playing yet again an unsympathetic, over-the-top oddity, here as an evil Fascist puppet for He Who Rules the Train.  Sympathetic villains—ones where you can understand a shred of their motivations–are almost always better.  Swinton could have been Samuel L. Jackson in Django Unchained.  Instead here she is just creepy.

Snowpiercer train

Persistence and unyielding determination tend to be the themes of most post-apocalyptic stories.  Snowpiercer’s biggest success is its answer to the question of whether, in the pursuit of your own survival, there are some things you just wouldn’t do to stay alive?

Snowpiercer is available now on DVD here and Blu-ray here at Amazon.com, and streaming on Netflix.

 

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