In the scope of comic book movies, there are two kinds: the ones that everyone knows are based on comic books and graphic novels, and the ones that people don’t know are based on anything at all. “Snowpiercer” belongs to the latter category, a science fiction epic based on a French graphic novel and made into a film by South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho.
“Snowpiercer” takes place in a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the remnants of humanity have taken refuge on board a train run by perpetual- motion engine. Each car represents a different economic class established by the value of tickets purchased, or lack thereof, when the train departed in 2014. The front of the train belongs to first class ticketed passengers, and the tail of the car contains those who boarded without tickets, like Chris Evans’ character Curtis, a man willing to lead a revolution to better the situation of those in the rear, despite previous failed attempts. What ensues is a mad dash through dozens of cars, not without casualties and revelations on both sides.
Some of the comic relief to this bleak tale is found in Tilda Swinton. Her character Minister Mason is the face of the administration to the train, and Swinton’s androgynous features enable Bong to retain some masculine features of the original character as well. Her fanatical dedication to Wilfred and the train result in gleefully watching passengers die in the name of order, to speechmaking about the nature of balance to a closed ecosystem like theirs. Swinton is always a brilliant character actor, and here is another example of why she is one of Hollywood’s rare true talents.
Evans, right off filming “The Avengers” is still clearly the man with a mission in this film. He might not be afraid to leave a man behind, even allow collateral damage for the sake of the mission, but he still is striving for the greater good. He fits this mold of the hero, but never quite makes it into the realm of anti-hero, which is where his character needed to venture.
Bong has quite a few messages packed into the two hour run time of “Snowpiercer.” The glaring ones are the environmental message, of man trying in last-ditch efforts to repair the damage that was ignored, only to make the situation worse, as well as the economic injustice of the have’s and the have-nots. There are also the subtle jabs at the partisanship that faces many governments, and notably our own, with both conservative economic policies and liberal environmental policies taking a hit via caricature.
This movie is fast-paced and intelligent. Everything is neatly explained, and tied up, although the ending does leave plenty of room for personal interpretation. Personally, the last image of the polar bear was one of hope, as the human race nears extinction it may be able to bring itself back from the brink.
“Snowpiercer” is rated R because there is plenty of violence and drug content and some liberal language use. I’m giving the film an A, because its one of the smartest movies I’ve seen in a while, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who has the chance to see it. If you can’t catch it in the theatre, “Snowpiercer” is getting a video on demand release July 11.