Civilization’s going off the rails on this train
When global warming can no longer be ignored, world governments gamble on an experimental coolant. Humanity waits for a cooldown after a chemical called CW-7 is released into the skies above every country on earth.
Instead of temperate weather, CW-7 kicks off the next ice age, making life on earth impossible. The only survivors of the man-made extinction are the residents of Snowpiercer, a colossal train with a perpetual motion engine that rockets around the globe on a set of frozen, rickety tracks.
At the front of the train, the passengers live in luxury, feasting, partying and worshiping the train’s creator, the mysterious Wilford. At the back, living conditions are austere. Packed into filthy bunks, the third-class passengers are fed jellied protein bars and beaten, their children stolen by Wilford’s enforcers. After 17 years riding the back of the rails, Curtis (Chris Evans: Captain America: The Winter Soldier) has had enough. He organizes a bloody rebellion in hopes of improving the conditions of his fellow passengers.
Armed with scavenged weapons, a plan to overtake the security and the conviction that things have to change, Curtis and his team fight tooth and nail through each car, heading toward Wilford and, they hope, freedom.
Can Curtis win better living conditions for the back of the train? Or will rebellion send humanity’s last hope off the rails?
Dystopian thrillers have become a fashionable genre with the success of Hunger Games, Divergent and The Purge. Snowpiercer makes its class warfare metaphors more palatable with fantastic close-quarters action. Writer/director Joon-ho Bong (Mother) uses his English language debut to show off an impressive command of both plotting and staging. Bong creates brutal, intense fights that take advantage of the train’s cramped spaces. Bong also infuses a surprising amount of humor into the film, a rare feat for the typically dreary dystopian science fiction genre.
Snowpiercer works in large part because Bong keeps the action moving. We start in the back of the train and join the rebels as they raid toward the engine. Bong uses each car to explore an aspect of society on the train, meaning the scenery is constantly changing and each new environment adds interest. His take on the train’s school car is an especially sharp commentary on how easy it is to indoctrinate people.
Bong also shows a talent for getting the most out of his actors. Evans, whose performances as Captain America rely more on physique than technique, gets to show off impressive dramatic capabilities as the stoic leader of the rebellion. As a mysterious prisoner essential to the uprising’s success, Bong mainstay Kang-ho Song (Howling) is funny and compelling. A campy nemesis begging for comeuppance, Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive) is equally terrifying and hilarious.
In spite of its clever concept and excellent performances, Snowpiercer is not without its faults. Like most science fiction, if you pull at the loose plot threads long enough, you unravel the whole story. For instance: We see sides of beef stored in a freezer, but where are the cattle on this train? The audience doesn’t need a step-by-step explanation of the train’s biosystems, but the more you think about what must be going on to sustain life in the train, the more ludicrous the plot seems.
Still, Snowpiercer is an unusual gem for the summer season: A film with enough action to entertain the popcorn crowds and enough clever class warfare metaphors to keep film connoisseurs interested. Buy a ticket for a bleak but ultimately entertaining train ride.
Snowpiercer is showing in theaters in D.C. and Baltimore and shows up on VOD July 11.