Based on a French graphic novel, Snowpiercer is a fresh take on the post-apocalyptic film with an indelibly ambiguous ending that acts as a litmus test for determining if you are an optimist or pessimist. The premise of the story is that a small percentage of humanity has survived a man-made ice age by boarding a luxury train. This train, the titular Snowpiercer, has a perpetual motion engine and endlessly circumnavigates the world, completing one cycle every year. The protagonist Curtis, played by Captain America himself, the ever so likeable Chris Evans, was 17 when he and everyone else boarded the train, and thus has spent half his life onboard. He and the majority of the population live in squalor as they are kept tightly contained within the last car by the first-class passengers and armed guards who live in the front cars. Curtis, his crippled mentor Gillam (John Hurt), and some other members of the third-class launch a revolution to try to take control of the engine at the from of the train, working their way through many cars and herculean obstacles with the help of ornery engineer Namgoong and his clairvoyant daughter Yona. Tilda Swinton also appears as an important, first-class official while sporting ludicrous false teeth, a crazy accent, and proclaiming undying devotion to the maker of the train, Wilford, the identity of whom is revealed when Curtis reaches the engine.
The director Bong Joon-ho, perhaps best known in the West for the monster film The Host, does some really great work here, creating each surreal and distinctive car of the train as well as portraying the horrors or wonders within. There is a progression from the dark, cramped, almost steampunk-like end car, through the vibrant farming cars and the opulent luxury ones, and back to the dark just before reaching the head of the train. Some great cinematography is also utilised during a fight scene in the dark as the train enters a tunnel and the revolutionists wage battle against terrifying axe-wielding butchers. Only two or three characters have fully-fleshed out storylines but the rest of the cast comprises of an intriguing assortment of characters. There is a tattooed martial arts fighter (known to some from the BBC’s The Musketeers as D’Artagnan), a couple of silent and silver-suited gay bodyguards, and a saccharine-sweet, pregnant schoolteacher who sprouts horrid propaganda, to name a few. The set-up of the train, which is a condensed version of the one from the graphic novel, allows for both social and ecological commentary, which is really fun to deconstruct post-viewing. The third act does drag a little after the relentless pushing toward the front of the train and there are so many character deaths that the impact does get lost after a while but Snowpiercer is still one of the best films of 2013 with its riveting, original story and great cast.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 cubes of Kronole