Couldn’t get tickets to Interstellar in IMAX? No room in your cold, jaded heart for Big Hero 6? Why not stay in this weekend with Snowpiercer, a gritty post-apocalyptic action film about a class revolution on a giant train?
Snowpiercer is the first English language film from Korean director Bong Joon-ho (best known for 2006’s The Host), and takes place seventeen years after an experiment to counteract global warming backfires disastrously and plunges the earth into a bitter ice age. The last remnants of humanity board the eponymous Snowpiercer, a massive train that perpetually travails the frozen wasteland.
The logistics of maintaining a human population on a gigantic train is about as problematic as one would imagine; limited space and resources have stratified the population, with the more privileged elite in the front and the oppressed lower class in the rear. Chris Evans (the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s very own Captain America) stars as Curtis Everett, a member of the underclass who leads a revolt to reach the inventor and caretaker of the eternal engine at the front of the train.
The universe of the film is wonderfully realized; the train provides a rich but claustrophobic backdrop for the story and action. As the revolt works its way to the front, each car reveals another unique function of the train or aspect of life for its many inhabitants. The cramped and squalid rear cars give way to utilities such as water recycling and food growing. As the revolt presses forward, they also proceed linearly across the socioeconomic spectrum, passing classrooms and salons, and eventually to the extravagant luxuries of saunas and nightclubs towards the front. Each car is a small tableau with a discrete character; the film proceeds smoothly through each like a carefully crafted slideshow.
The action is swift and brutal in the narrow confines of the train, and the story provides a few delightful twists and turns that provide considerable depth to its microcosmic class war premise. A great supporting cast rounds out Chris Evans’s strong but sensitive heroism–John Hurt lends his sagely gravitas as the mentor to Curtis, Song Kang-Ho provides just the right touch of crazy as a drug addicted security expert, and Tilda Swinton revels in her role as the tyrannical minister of the train.
Snowpiercer stands out amongst the usual sci-fi films with a unique premise and solid action that’s guided smoothly by Bong Joon-ho’s skillful direction. Much like its eponymous train, the film is filled to bursting with character and detail as it barrels relentlessly forward to its thrilling conclusion.