Watching someone from a foreign country try to make a movie in the United States is always interesting. Even more interesting are the questions that arise from the directors heading over. Will they succeed like Peter Jackson? Will they try and go back to success in their home country ala Tsui Hark? Will they latch onto Jean Claude Van Damme for some odd reason Ringo Lam style? After critical and commercial success in South Korea director Bong Joon-ho becomes the latest film maker to make the leap over to the States.
In 2014 an experiment to end global warming goes awry and kills the majority of humanity. The few that do survive live on the Snowpiercer, a large train that continually circles the globe. Over 17 years a class system is established where the wealthy live in the front and the poor live in the tail of the train. When children are taken for mysterious reasons the tail end stages a rebellion led by Curtis Everett (Chris Evans). As the rebellion moves forward secrets and hidden agendas could ruin everything.
While my description comes off as a bit generic I can assure that it is anything but. Like other great science fiction the movie not only taps into social commentary but manages to enlighten and entertain. Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige the acting is what absolutely carries this movie. To my surprise Chris Evans works quite well when taken out of the superhero/rom com comfort zone. While I don’t think he was flawless (I found a monologue near the end more funny than horrifying) he did better than I thought he would. As always Tilda Swinton completely throws herself into the role of Minister Mason. A member of the front of the train she is able to pull off class and cowardice perfectly.
Behind the camera Bong Joon-Ho is in top form. From the claustrophobic tail to the brightly lit higher class everything is shot beautifully. Each car of the train is completely different helping not only the story but creating some cool and unique action scenes. Oh the action scenes. While brutal it never feels gratuitous or overdone. Countering the action is a clever and thoughtful script written by Joon-Ho and Kelly Masterson (Before the Devil Knows you’re Dead). A mix of action and social commentary it’s the dark humor that makes it work. While dour the fact that it doesn’t take everything happening too seriously helps the movie move along.
This has been a pretty good summer movie season. But amongst all the remakes and sequels it’s refreshing to see an original movie not only be made but be the best of the bunch. This action packed film is kept firmly grounded by an interesting story, captivating performances and a twisted sense of humor. When blockbusters tend to be over bloated Snowpiercer stands out and excels by keeping things lower key.