|Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company.|
Its premise is pure pulp, but its execution is not. The film, which marks Joon Ho's first foray into the English language, is set shortly in the future following a failed attempt to correct global warming that has left the planet frozen and uninhabitable. A massive train that carries the humans that have survived this global disaster runs around in circles.
The poorer denizens are forced to live in the back of the train and eat grotesque protein squares for food. They reside in squalor and are oppressed by the train's guards, who either kill them or do horrendous things to their limbs when they act out. Occasionally - and quite unexplainably - these guards, accompanied by a demented factotum (Tilda Swinton), drop by to steal away the children of the poor.
At the top of the train, which is run by a mysterious man named Wilford, are the one percenters, whom - as we come to find out - live lavishly amidst gigantic fish tanks, herbal gardens, saunas and a nightclub.
A back-of-the-train man named Curtis (Chris Evans) has devised a plan for the poor to overtake the guards and make their way up the train to find a guy named Nam (Joon Ho regular Kang-ho Song), who once helped design the train, but is now in the equivalent of a solitary prison cell. Curtis' pals in this revolution include an older mentor (John Hurt), a woman (Octavia Spencer) whose child has been stolen by the guards and a protege (Jaime Bell), of sorts.
This travel and series of battles to the top of the train are occasionally hilarious - for instance, Swinton's completely bonkers performance as the villainess Mason - but more often violent, brutal and unrelentingly exciting. The film is set in a confined space, but Joon Ho makes better use of that claustrophobic locale than most other action filmmakers out there do with the earth, heavens and cosmos.
There is, of course, more to the story than meets the eye. Curtis's getting to the man behind the curtain - who is closer to the Wicked Witch than the Wizard of Oz - leads to some heavy thematic ramblings, although Curtis's discussion with Nam on the train's history of cuisine that occurs just a short scene before is even more horrifying. The film jumps the shark just a little bit in its finale, but it's been so damn good in the two hours leading up to it that some small missteps at the end can easily be forgiven.
"Snowpiercer" is quite unlike anything else you'll see in our current cinematic landscape. Joon Ho has dug into the Hollywood tool box and crafted a dystopian sci-fi action movie that is better thought out, shot and acted than virtually anything within the same genre in the U.S. this year or, most likely, during the past few. For those who have been long seeking a thrill ride with brains to match the brawn, this is the one for which you've been waiting.