snowpiercer-15In 1979, NBC broadcast nine episodes of one of the worst and, at the time, most expensive television series ever aired: Supertrain. Boasting a disco, swimming pool and shopping mall, not to mention a weekly turnover of B-list celebrities, this was no ordinary train. This was Supertrain.

Thirty-five years later, director Joon-ho Bong brings Supertrain to the big screen, only it’s called Snowpiercer, and it’s not as awful.

But it’s not good.

In the near future, mankind attempts to reverse the effects of global warming by releasing a chemical into the upper atmosphere, and it basically works, with just one niggling problem. The earth is plunged into an ice age that freezes everything and everybody, except for a train that is filled with the remainder of humanity traveling the world in an endless loop.

You don’t need to be an engineer to figure out that you’ve booked a seat on the Allegory Express, even before you see that the rear of the train is overfilled with the scum of the earth, and the front is lightly populated with the elite. But these peasants are revolting, as Mel Brooks might say, and since they’ve literally paid an arm or a leg or both to be on board, they want a piece of the pie or cake or whatever the hell they eat in the front that isn’t the sewer jello the wretched refuse in the back munch on for din-din every night.

They recycle everything on board including water, waste, and revolution, but Curtis (Chris Evans) with the sage advice of Gilliam (John Hurt playing John Hurt as a wise old man) believes this time will be different. The key is to break the security expert Namgoong Minsu (Kang-ho Song) out of his cell and fight their way to the front to take over the engine and then to do, well, you know, um, something, but that’s not important right now. Let’s go…

Watching Snowpiercer is like tuning into the finale of a television series or the third film in a movie trilogy of which you haven’t seen any of the previous episodes. The script by Bong and Kelly Masterson from a French graphic novel assumes an affinity for the main characters that doesn’t exist. The result is that the film is emotionally uninvolving. The act of children being separated from their parents has no heft; it simply explains why the parents insist on following Curtis to the front. The loyal soldier sacrificing himself allows the group to go on, but he is not missed or even remembered by the movie’s end.

Chris Evans has shown himself to be one hell of an action hero, an ability that is currently on display in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Here, his range extends from determined to confused to guilt-ridden, the differences being conveyed primarily in the blankness of his stare and the number of furrows in his forehead. Bong does not keep a steady pace which undermines Evans attempts to carry the action, the most grievous example being when all hell is – or at least should be – breaking loose. Evans literally sits down and explains to the least helpful psychic in the world (“Don’t open that door,” she shouts as the door is opening) everything that happened before the film started. To be fair, his story sounds like it would have made for a great movie.

Meanwhile, the bad guys have all the good lines in Snowpiercer, and none more than Tilda Swinton as Mason, who colorfully explains the difference between a hat and a shoe in the seven minutes it takes to exact punishment on a rebel. Wes Anderson served up a bit of Swinton as an amuse-bouche in The Grand Budapest Hotel; here, she has a meatier role. Ed Harris is also reliably stalwart as The Man Behind The Curtain, but the showstopper in the film is Alison Pill as a perky, blonde, psychotic, fascist, pregnant schoolteacher. Her one scene is a highlight of the entire effort.

The interior designs of the train are quite good with an intriguing steampunk influence; the exteriors of the frozen wasteland look like computer generated backgrounds of a frozen wasteland using software from 2007. Rather than a shopping mall, Bong packs his train with issues like drug addiction and child labor. Not surprisingly, the whole thing comes off the rails, but the impact is negligible.

One and a half stars.

  1. Mirella McCracken says:

    Very good review. Thank you.

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