Snowpiercer **1/2 (out of five)
Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer is an exotic and very flawed wildebeest, an often inspired, sometimes lethargic adaption of a French graphic novel, funded mainly by the Korean government and starring a strange panoply of British thespians but with the couldn’t-be-less-British American (Captain America himself!) Chris Evans in the lead. It will not be to everyone’s taste, but there are those who will go bonkers for it.
Seventeen years after humankind has frozen itself to death in an ill-judged assault on global warming, the Last Remnants Of The Human Race all live jam-packed on a very large train that endlessly circles the earth, one revolution a year. The rich live in the front and the poor in the back, and the poor want more than their daily protein bars. They revolt – lead by Evans – by moving through squads of armed guards towards the front of the train.
Scenes of battle are highly originally conceived, and other set pieces highlight Bong’s idiosyncratic visual flair. Those pesky “in-between” scenes are far less successful, containing Bong’s style of strange, forced humour that I challenge anyone else to find funny. This was also the problem of Bong’s breakthrough hit The Host, and that film, like this one, could have been much leaner and meaner by the simple eradication of these “comic” interludes.
But that’s Bong’s style and he’s sticking to it. While it means Snowpiercer is inconsistent, tonally jarring and very often simply boring, it also means we get to see a truly weird, offset, intriguing imagination at work, resulting in an imperfect, but somewhat original, action picture.
There are many deficiencies. If, like me, you like some interior logic within your sci-fi / fantasy / action movie framework, you’ll find Snowpiercer seriously frustrating, the biggest problem by far being the conception of the train itself. Each of the carriages is a simple tube, most with a single aisle down the middle, so, theoretically, there would always be people travelling through carriages to get to other ones – but no-one ever does. Thus, the old people are in the garden carriage, the wealthy diners are in the dining car, and so forth, but no-one is going to and fro. There are no signs of toilets, kitchens or beds. Evans travels the whole length of the train, so we see pretty much all its inhabitants, and there simply aren’t enough to add up to the world that is being talked about. And, outside of the protein bars being created for the poor, there is no evidence of any sort of manufacturing or food preparation (outside of a single sushi carriage) yet, as I’ve said, people are dining, dressing, dancing and so forth.
While some of the scenes – pretty much broken down into the differing carriages – are intriguing and imaginative, some are the opposite. So the “party car”, which could have been wildly imaginative (how do you party in a train carriage, being on a perpetual speeding train, as part of the Last Remants Of The Human Race?) is incredibly generic – DJs, sunglasses inside, people punching the air. It’s almost as though Bong makes his films to some sort of hierarchy, lending his imagination to some sequences with great effort and letting others being banal, uninspired and dull.
The dialogue is sometimes dreadful, and at its worse in the climactic sequence, which is far too long, wordy, stilted and terribly on-the-nose. Indeed, the last act is far less exciting than the first two, going against not only action-movie wisdom but movie-movie wisdom. In this respect Bong almost seems to be thumbing his nose at storytelling convention, to his own film’s great detriment. There is an awesome 90 minute movie lurking within these very bloated 126.