Starring: Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, Ed Harris, Song Kang-ho
Directed by: Bong Joon-ho
Synopsis: To combat the effects of global warming, the brilliant minds of Earth try to cool the planet but make it into a new ice age with most of all life extinct. Except some humans who are living in a giant perpetual-motion train called the “Snowpiercer” (because in 3 scenes it actually has to go through a wall of snow and ice) that has a class system with the well-to-do living in the front and the ne’er-do-wells in the tail. It is the year 2031 and Chris Evans has had enough and starts an uprising to take over the train.
What fail(s): We usually start with what works in these Reel Quicks but this time the film has way too many failures that it deserves to go first this time around. Where do I even begin! Whatever you do, when you start this movie, is suspend that disbelief way ass high—like Stratosphere level because this film takes the “sci” in Sci-fi and laughs in its face. All logic, reason and science is completely thrown off the train. First of all the whole concept of freezing the Earth is OK, I can live with this concept just fine. But having the remaining humans live on a giant train that runs across the entire Earth is completely asinine. Why not build a nice fortress or something that doesn’t need to worry about tracks and running smoothly on them? The idea is that the engine built by mega-mind Ed Harris is perpetual-motion and doesn’t require fuel to run is a great one but across the entire world?! They don’t explain how it goes over oceans (whether they’re frozen or there’s tunnels is unknown but it does go around the world because they celebrate the new year when it goes over a particular bridge). But why not have a fortress with a perpetual-motion mechanism running around the fortress?
So the lower-class people live in squalor in the tail region and the high-class big-wigs live up front. Fine. But the lower-class people used to depend on cannibalism at first to survive. Meaning, they either killed amongst themselves or mutilated themselves for food. WHAT!? Why even have lower-class people on the train if you’re going to allow this to happen? To make less sense of the concept, now, they dine on some weird gelatin protein bar everyday made inside the train. It’s later revealed that the protein bars are made from cockroaches. Where these cockroaches are coming from is anyone’s guess. The upper-class people eat normal food like steak, wine and sushi. Again, where is this food coming from?
Each train car on the Snowpiercer is a different “level” as if it’s a video game (and this film does feel as realistic as a video game). The tail is the slums. Then there’s a water car providing clean healthy water for the entire train. There’s the food prep car where we see the cockroach protein bar making machine, and some skinned live-stock hanging. Along the way there’s a school car for the rich kids to get educated. There’s also a garden/green house car for harvesting vegetation. There’s also an aquarium car—yes an aquarium car with the sushi bar built right in. So that’s where they get the fish to eat but doesn’t really explain the rice. I don’t think you can grow rice in a green-house right? Then there’s a dance club car. Yes, you read that right, no post-apocolytic super train is complete with a rave going on. And then there’s the engine where Ed Harris lives. There’s other cars but they seemingly have very little purpose except when it comes time for our characters to fight each other.
Tonally, this film is all over the place. I’m more than OK with some humor in my sci-fi flicks even ones with supposedly great post-apocalytic social commentary (12 Monkeys is a prime example) but there’s way to much unfocused concepts in this “train-wreck” of a film. There’s a huge fight scene between the rebels and ax-weilding guards. Before the fight starts, one of the guards takes his ax and slowly cuts a large fish down it’s belly getting blood on his ax. I’m not sure if that was something lost in the Korean-to-English translation or a cultural thing but it makes very little sense. Except when in the middle of the fight—in slow motion, mind you—Chris Evans actually slips on the fish and nearly gets an ax in his skull after he lands. Like am I watching a Looney Tunes or what? There’s another scene when a rebel is punished for attacking a guard by having his arm placed outside the train for several minutes until it freezes solid. It’s then smashed into bits by a guard wielding a large Gallagher mallet. There’s many more examples of weird and twisted humor in a what I assumed was a very serious action sci-fi movie.
There’s also tons of loose-ends with the characters, plot-holes or concepts within the film. One of the rebels, a young Korean girl has, what the other rebels assume, is clairvoyance. As they progress up the train they free her and her dad, who can open up the gates to the train cars. Before the father opens up the gates, she has “feelings” as to what is on the other side of the gate. But this only occurs like 2-3 times. There were other times when she or her group were in peril and her “gift” never work in their advantage. It’s an inconsistency that is up there with dead henchman/mini-boss getting up after a long time dead just to cause more conflict with the rebels later on. Another thing that bothered me was the whole idea that Ed Harris and John Hurt were in cahoots to start a rebellion on the train as a way to keep the population down. Seriously? That’s your plan? What if the rebels succeeded in destroying the train? Is that a risk you’re willing to take? If you want less people to be on the train then just throw them off. And Chris Evans and John Hurt were getting secret messages to help out their rebellion but what if Chris Evans happened to die before he reached the engine? Those messages were from Ed Harris himself because he thought Evans would make a great successor to lead the train and keep the engine going. But Evans is a rebel and has been eating people and shitty protein bars for 17 years—do you really think he’s going to be keen on that idea and have people still live in a class system? Again, just terrible screenwriting.
I can go on and on with so many dumb ideas that this film tried to make work. Like, how the dad and clairvoyant daughter are addicted to a drug called Kronole that they are given as payment for opening the gates. First of all, food is a rarity especially with the lower-class but they have this drug available? Remember, this is a train not some slums in a fortress or city. So if you think I’m nitpicking too much just remember that this is a train that never stops for supplies or can stop since it’s a frozen wasteland. Anyway, this drug is basically C4 because the dad makes a bomb with it, intent on destroying the train. Again, it’s a frozen wasteland—where is he going to go when the train stops! But the stuff they are getting high on is basically an explosive.
I haven’t really discussed the actors and characters yet. Well, can you imagine that despite all the dumbness in this film that the performances are top-notch. Well they’re not. This film doesn’t have characters, it has cartoons and caricatures. Tilda Swinton is so over-the-top and hammy that you can practically smell the bacon. John Hurt is just John Hurt. Ed Harris is on this train to collect a pay check. Chris Evan’s is probably the best performance in this film but it looks like he’s trying to be Neo. And he’s basically invincible. I think he has made too many superhero movies. He’s also not gruff enough for someone playing a low-class survivor who has seen the worst of humanity and has been living on a train for 17 years. At any rate, don’t see this movie for the acting that’s for sure.
What work(s): The film looks great. Kudos to the set designers and craftsmen making this huge locomotive come to life. I have to give credit to them as well as the second-unit in charge of the action scenes. Not that the fights were great or memorable but they were done very well. Marco Beltrami’s score is worth mentioning as being decent as well.
Overall: I have heard so many good things regarding this movie since it came out in February that I was actually really looking forward to seeing it when Netflix had it on Instant recently. I really don’t get the appeal. This is one dumb movie. And I seriously don’t think I’m being too stuffy or nitpicky when I say this. The first half hour had me rolling my eyes so much I was getting head aches. Like I said, I can live with the wacky premise of humanity living on a train to survive but not when the train was specifically made for the survival. If the train was already there or modified before the ice age then fine, that makes for better conflict and makes more sense but not when it was made after the ice age. The acting was mostly terrible and cartoony and most of the plot was predictable. The social and political commentary was half-assed, half-baked and condescending to the audience. Unless this was made for young kids only. There’s a ton of better sci-fi movies with better written social and political commentary that it baffles me when people think this is as good as The Matrix, District 9, 1984, THX-1138 or Fahrenheit 451. This movie could be fun and should be fun since I enjoyed Bong Joon-ho’s earlier movie The Host. But critically this movie was rated well and I just don’t know why. Maybe these fans of the film have been sniffing too much Kronole.
Score: 1.5 sniffs of Kronole (out of 10)