Chris Evans Goes Off The Rails On Snowpiercer's Crazy Train. And It Is Glorious.
Director: Bong Joon-ho.
Writer: Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Masterson, Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette.
Cast: Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ewen Bremner, Ah-sung Ko, Alison Pill.
Released at a time when a heavy handful of summer blockbusters are built on idiocy and loud noises, Snowpiercer chugs along merrily with non-stop entertainment and crazy fun, from the first scene to the explosive finale.
Here's the plot: In 2014, the world tried to fight global warming with a gas called CW-7 designed to cool down the place. It failed — miserably — and turned the planet into one giant ice cube. We fought nature and nature won.
Jump forward 17 years and the world’s only survivors live in a colossal, self-sustained locomotive called the Rattling Ark. The front is sharper than a knife and can slice through anything nature throws in its path. Many of the cars are extravagant and fancy — hair salons, clubs, aquariums, classrooms and exotic rooms that make you forget the outside world is no longer a possibility. The Rattling Ark takes a full year to go around the Earth, and there are several landmarks to let the people know when it’s Christmas, a New Year's Eve, and so on. It's the perfect vessel for survival.
Except it's not: The train's conductor, played by Ed Harris, is an evil sonofabitch whose brain runs on the wrong side of the tracks. He built his own class system, where the rich are segregated from the poor. His train, his rules: The rich get all of the food, sex, pampering, drugs and pleasure on the many lush cars, and the poor are cramped into one car with only one kind of food (protein bars made of crushed and blended cockroaches, with no salt or lime). The poor's only hope for survival is to obey, and when they violate the rules, an arm or foot is held out of the train until it freezes. Then it's smashed in front of their eyes as others look on in horror. That's no way to live, which means it's time for a revolt and time for the lower classes to move toward to the front.
Now, we have a movie.
The revolt is lead by Curtis, played by Captain America himself, Chris Evans. Curtis is 34 and has lived on the Rattling Ark for half his life. This is a man whose life's throttle has been set to idle. He can't remember what it was like being on Earth. He's exhausted and ready to take control of the train's engine. He doesn't consider himself a hero, but acknowledges that there needs to be someone crazy enough to push things forward.
Just as Curtis is the perfect person to lead the revolt, Evans is the ideal man to lead this movie. He greases patience with grace, and, when it's time, he can make an ax-to-the-face look good.
Another major character in Snowpiercer is Mason, played by Tilda Swinton. Her unrivaled performance towers over the train itself: This woman is an unstoppable force of nature; she could do nothing and make doing nothing look captivating. We have no idea how old Mason is — only that she's ancient — and her pale skin is wrinkled like a raisin and her teeth are rotted. She's mean old woman, and she compares the poor to a shoe. This is someone who has never known struggle — only punishment. Expect Swinton to get recognition as Mason come Oscar time.
And, really, just expect great things from Snowpiercer in general. The rest of the cast solid, too, rounded off with Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), Allison Pill (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Harris (Apollo 13), John Hurt (Alien), Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting), Kang-ho Song (The Host) and Octavia Spencer (The Help). It should be noted: Song and Spencer command their limited (but great) screen time; these are two actors that always take charge in their own special way.
Now, granted, a film of this large a scale doesn't come without flaws. We don’t know how the Earth's remaining survivors were collected and put on the train — how did they find the train? was there a call to action? — and there's never clear indication why the train's conductor is such a dick. Also, let's be honest here, Chris Evans is more handsome in rags than any of the privileged on the train, and there's no denying that, in real life, he'd be up at the front, partying and jawing it up with any woman he wants. How he got the short end of the stick, I don't know. Maybe this is mentioned in the French graphic novel, Le Transperceneige, upon which the film was based, but it would have only favored the story to mention it at some point in the film. These are but small and easily dismissed nitpicks, though — and ones that are redeemed with aggressive action and breathtaking set-pieces.
Snowpiercer marks Bong Joon-ho’s (The Host) first American film, and it should not be his last. Here's a filmmaker who understands monsters (big and small), as well as struggle. There's certainly a lot to be said about the social commentary in this film, too. Joon-ho built Snowpiercer like a Hollywood blockbuster — the enormous ensemble, the epic story and the really damn gorgeous backdrops — but the film packs more of an emotional punch than all popcorn cinema you'll see this year.
Snowpiercer is a beautiful, haunting and bizarre post-apocalyptic magnum opus. It's impressive and pretty amazing.
This, folks, is how you make a film.
Snowpiercer opens tomorrow at the Angelika and the Alamo Drafthouse.