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Back when Snowpiercer dropped in 2013, I really only knew of it as that movie that forced Chris Evans to wear a fake chin when filming The Avengers' post-credit scene, as he'd grown a beard out for filming her. Somehow, I completely missed all the positive press, and only just watched it today on Netflix...and damn do I regret it.
Snowpiercer, at concept level, may seem like an environmentalist movie, but while that theme plays into the scenario, it is background-level at most, allowing for the true focus of the movie to come to light: class warfare and oppression. I was not expecting this to be as brutal, bleak, and frightening as it was, but as soon as they stuck a man's arm outside the train for 7 minutes and then shattered it with a hammer, I knew I was in for some shit, and it only gets better from there on out. Snowpiercer isn't afraid to kill people off, give them some truly Surreal Horror antagonistic forces to contend with, or show all the downsides of humanity's "survival", and for that I truly appreciate it. The plot and characters are truly refreshing in their unexpectedness and writing strength.
And then there's the technical aspects. The cinematography here is incredible - not a single shot feels wasted, and they never go for a standard, level camera angle when they could slow things down, twist the perspective, or zoom in on a focal point, so you're constantly engaged there. The fight during the bridge travel is thrilling and one of the most memorable parts of the movie, mainly due to the creative lighting arrangements and the absolutely insane enemy combatants. Every single car of the train feels distinct and you can understand its purpose from the first frame it appears on, while the costume design completely sells the crapsack situation most everyone is in. And of course, the sound design completely brings you into every single moment.
In short, please watch this movie. It seems to have been critically underviewed during its theatrical run despite making back its money, and that's just not fair for something this good.
I'm not saying its a bad movie. Its definitely not. I just feel its amazingly unsubtle in its methods and has an amazing tendency to simplify people down to stereotypes. Considering it also has a lot of solid character development I found this surprising.
Probably its greatest crime for me was breaking the suspension of disbelief in so many ways, especially at the end. The twist felt contrived and despite the excellent acting I really could no longer care. It also felt like a message I'd heard before, in stories that dealt with it more evenhandedly.
Like I said, it's not bad. It's just not as clever as people think it is.
Let get this out of the way: there's a lot in this film that makes no sense when you think about it. A train that never stops is completely arbitrary, and mainly serves to narrow down the universe. There's no way two train cars will stay in such consistent line of sight when the trains moves around a curve. The random stopping for sushi. Etc, etc, etc. Plus, sometimes it just gets odd, such the as the "Happy New Year" in the middle of the fight scene.
It doesn't matter. Forget the inconsistencies. First of all, the imagery of this film is impressive. The fight in the tunnel, with lines of light across the faces of the the characters and the arrival of the torches, was beautiful, and the contrasts, such as the whiteness of the Engine compartment with Curtis's grubbiness, or the switch to the school car, really highlighted the concepts and themes of the movie. Additionally, the choice to make the fight scenes pared down in the choreography and framing also helps with the overall tone of the film. They're not gory, they're not artistic, they are blunt and harsh, just the the lives of the characters.
The end result is well put together film that will make you think about the nature of humanity, society and class. I know several people who found the film an extreme downer to the point where it ruined any enjoyment for them, and I can understand why. But, personally, I enjoyed it greatly and found even the depressing parts tinged with hope.
Snowpiercer is in my opinion the best film of 2014 (for American audiences), which is saying something considering that 2014 has already brought us Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Godzilla, and Days of Future Past. This fantastic film has everything from great performances, great action, and great visuals wrapped around a truly fantastic narrative with some intellectual weight to it.
Snowpiercer takes place on a train (a definite Cool Train for all you tropers) where the last remnants of humanity eek out a desperate (or not-so-desperate for some) existence. The world has been frozen solid by a global warming experiment gone wrong, so there truly is no hope (or is there?) beyond the claustrophobic confines of this rocketing zephyr. The passengers in the back of the train are the poor, the proletariat, the have-nots. The front is occupied by the insane rich, and I DO mean INSANE. These are the kind of rich folk who would blow up their Lamborghini and then have an orgy at Charlie Sheen's house if they could. The story concerns Curtis, played by Chris Evans, who leads a tail-ender rebellion with the goal of taking the perpetual motion engine.
What follows is a class struggle so epic that Karl Marx would feel inadequate. Not only is adrenaline pumped thanks to amazing action sequences but by triple-A performances by Evans and Tilda Swinton (who chews the scenery so hard as her Baroness character that I'm pretty sure she ate director Bong Joon-ho). The other great part of Snowpiercer is that it compounds its blockbuster action with some intellectual weight. The film concerns itself with the balance of human society between haves and have-nots and the futility of class struggle. The train acts as an appropriate metaphor for humanity; just like the train we careen through existence at dangerous speeds, fighting amongst ourselves in the process and wasting lives. Yet the film manages to deliver these themes without contemplating its navel, which is welcome to anyone tired of the divide between "fun movie with no substance" and "boring, pretentious movie with too much substance".
If you're lucky enough to live in South Korea, stop reading this review here. If you live in North America and would like to see this movie, please please PLEASE throw your money at it, even if that means driving 30 or 40 minutes out of the way. Or take the train.
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