Director Bong Joon-Ho’s future in Snowpiercer is dreary, slick, ridiculous and entertaining

Tuesday 01st, July 2014 / 12:27
By David Nowacki

The future! If the movie industry is to be believed, there’s a good chance it’s not going to be a very nice place. Whether it’s dystopian oligarchies resulting in blood sport (The Running Man, The Hunger Games, Battle Royale), dystopian oligarchies resulting in an oppressed, cowed populace (Soylent Green, 1984, The Matrix), or dystopian oligarchies resulting in class warfare (Elysium), the future definitely looks like a dystopian oligarchy.

The future painted by Korean director Bong Joon-Ho, best known for 2006 monster movie classic The Host, is no different. But this time the dystopian oligarchy… is on a train. Adapted from the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, it envisions a dystopian future where all of outside gets frozen because of mankind’s danged hubris. What’s left of humanity survives on the titular train Snowpiercer, which, conveniently enough, never runs out of power while circumnavigating the planet. Like most dystopian futures, it also features a nice young handsome white man to fight against the inevitable malevolent oligarchy, this time portrayed by Chris Evans. Evans and his motley crew of grubby cohorts (Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer) are imprisoned in the ghettoized rear cars of Snowpiercer. Things suck back there. They’re dirty, they eat jellied protein bars for sustenance and their children are routinely taken away to the front section of the train, where the upper crust of humanity now reside in what one would imagine to be callous excess. Evans can’t take it anymore, so he ringleads a plan to take control of the whole train, attempting to restore some semblance of egalitarianism and humanity in this godforsaken future. Despite stern warnings from the voice of the front (Tilda Swinton) that her thuggish militia may shoot, chop, or otherwise dismember them if they act up, the courageous proletariat bust out and begin their journey to the front.

And what a journey it is! They first track down the engineer who designed all the locks on the train (Song Kang-ho) and his daughter (Ko Ah-Sung), tempting them with the fancy future-drugs they both seem to enjoy. Evans and co. then barrel forward towards the nose of the train to liberate themselves from its shady creator and dictator, the eerily mononymous Wilford (Ed Harris). Bong deftly translates the source material’s stylish presentation of a nasty future to the screen, each car lavishly detailed and lit from the poop-smeared interiors of the back cars to the polished brass of the front. His translation of the dialogue is, sadly, a bit too literal. I presume that even in its native French language, the dialogue is not what one would call ‘realistic’ or ‘in any way resembling how people talk’ but after being translated into English, it’s occasionally so hamfisted that it makes a conversation about cannibalism a total knee-slapper. It doesn’t detract from the movie hugely, as the universe it inhabits is so cartoonish as to allow for silly dialogue, although some of the things the actors say will send even the most lenient of B-movie fans’ eyes a-rolling. Fortunately for us, the actors all spew forth the cheese better than an aerosol can of Cheez Whiz. The ever-likable Evans delivers some just ridiculous shit with an admirably straight face. Swinton’s be-dentured, bespectacled propagandist is entirely weird and completely delightful. Hurt somehow manages to chew the scenery just walking silently.

It all adds up to a beautiful, sometimes moving, occasionally laughably melodramatic near-masterpiece. The movie is so damn entertaining that by the end even what would be grievous errors in lesser movies seem endearing. When you’re rolling your eyes, you’re doing it with a smile, rewinding those scenes as much as the straight-up awesome ones. Any fan of genre films, dystopian futures or hunky dudes should definitely… well… hop on board.

Opens in limited release July 18.

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