Set just seventeen years from today, the movie, written and directed by Joon-ho Bong, takes place in a dystopian world where global warming has turned the planet into one giant snowball.
So far this could be “The Day After Tomorrow,” or “The Colony” or any number of icy thrillers set in a sub zero world.
All of humanity now lives on a train, owned and operated by a mysterious industrialist named Wilford, hurtling through what’s left of ice-covered planet. It’s an ecosystem with its own class system. In the front of the locomotive people live a life of luxury, dining on sushi, partying in nightclubs, tending orchids in greenhouses, while the folks in the back, “the freeloaders” are forced to live in atrocious conditions. Imagine the steerage section in “Titanic” only WAY worse.
Crammed in like sardines these “tail section” passengers are treated like prisoners, forced to eat “protean bars” of dubious quality and tortured for the slightest of infractions. “Know your place,” commands Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton). “Accept your place.”
It’s an atmosphere ripe for revolution, but can ringleaders Curtis (Chris Evans), Gilliam (John Hurt) and right hand man Edgar (Jamie Bell) fight their way through the train (and all of the story’s allegories) to the front and freedom?
Based on the French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige,” “Snowpiercer” is the nerviest actioner to come along in a season crowded with movies that go crash, boom, bang. It’s an environmental thriller—if you haven’t already seen Bong’s “The Host” do so now!—that is unapologetically weird, keeping the audience off balance for the entirety of its two-hour running time.
Tilda Swinton as the train’s Iron Lady, the minister of discipline, plays like a cross between a prison guard, Benny Hill and Margaret Thatcher. It’s a loopy performance that embraces and embodies the movie’s weird spirit.
In the world Bong creates surprises are around every corner, characters come and go, but it never feels odd for odd’s sake. The story rips along like a rocket (or thousand car train, if you like), sometimes in several directions at once, but Bong controls the chaos, keeping the story plausible (OK, plausible-ish) and above all, entertaining.