Movie Review: Thrilling Snowpiercer Stays on Track

An experiment to combat global warming backfires, sending Earth into a new ice age that nearly kills all life on the planet. The last survivors of the human race live in the Snowpiercer, a massive bullet train running on a perpetual-motion engine. The poorest people live in the train’s tail while the richest live in the front. Tail resident Curtis (Chris Evans) leads a revolt to overthrow the train’s elite, allying himself with Minsu (Song Kang-Ho), the designer of the train’s security systems. Their primary opposition is led by Mason (Tilda Swinton), the autocratic enforcer for and spokesperson of the train’s creator.

Snowpiercer is an unbelievably tense, remarkably tight cross between Metropolis and The Raid in all the best ways. Its deep meditations on the cyclical nature of humanity and its relationship with power are combined with intentionally claustrophobic action scenes so well integrated that neither seems to exist without the other. Director/co-writer Bong Joon-Ho’s trademark dark, often black humor feels right at home in the film’s gears. Its plot and pace flow as easily as the kicks and slices of its brutal, balletic fights, and its cast is as prepared and on their game as any martial arts champion.

Evans is quietly intense as the film’s almost anti-hero, nearly polar opposite of the giant Boy Scout he plays as Captain America. That he can make both roles seem equally as deep and layered proves that he’s more than puffed-up pecs and a square jaw. Tilda Swinton is just as loudly (and appropriately) intense as a Margret Thatcher-meets-Gollum tyrant, and the closer Curtis gets to the front of the train, the more of Mason’s character is revealed. There’s much more to Mason than meets the eye, and Swinton completely disappears into the role, bringing out her complexities sometimes in nearly imperceptible touches. Even supporting players like Alison Pill, Jamie Bell and Octavia Spencer make their characters fully three-dimensional and human in their relatively brief screen time.

The film breaks down a little at the end (as all machines do eventually), but it sticks its landing and ends on the exact right note. It’s simply one of the best science fiction films in recent memory, and (thankfully) one that is completely and totally human…and often disturbingly prescient.

9 out of 10 / A

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