★★ / ★★★★
In an attempt to stop global warming seventeen years earlier, CW-7 was released into the air. But instead of lowering the temperatures to a desired level, the entire planet is inadvertently thrown toward a whole new Ice Age. The remaining human survivors are aboard a self-sustaining train called The Rattling Ark. The rich live lavishly in the front end of the train while the poor barely subsist in substandard conditions at the tail end. Naturally, the latter group revolts.
Based on the graphic novel “Le Transperceneige” by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, “Snowpiercer,” directed by Joon-ho Bong, has a fairly entertaining although standard first half but it is derailed almost completely by the second half when the lead actor must bring to life the motivations and inner turmoil of a reluctant hero. Because the performer is unable to communicate that he is playing a man who has seen a lot of unimaginable horrors over the years, the overall struggle of the class he represents loses traction. By the end, it is just another science fiction film with an interesting premise but fails to deliver its potential.
Chris Evans plays Curtis, one of the handful of survivors in the back of the train who still has all of his limbs intact. Evans is effective in conveying believable toughness and determination, but when he is required to be vulnerable and tortured, I could see through the performance. This is especially problematic with the scene in which Curtis reveals what had happened in the tail section when there was no food for about a month. I felt Evans trying to put on a mask of angst and trying to get the tears flowing. A more seasoned actor would have been more successful at getting us to pay attention to the story being told rather than noticing the forced performance.
This is problematic because Curtis is a reluctant leader of the oppressed. People around him believe that he can lead but just because they believe it, does not necessarily mean that we automatically do, too. In addition, the aforementioned scene does not work because his character is not given a well-defined arc. Clearly, the screenplay needs work.
I enjoyed the dinginess and darkness of the tail section, how one can barely discern, for instance, a person lying down, covered in gray clothing, from, say, a pile of boxes or pipes. One gets a real impression that people have lived in that environment for years so one could almost get an idea of the stench of the overcrowded cars.
Jamie Bell, who plays one of the unhappy oppressed, plays his character to match the environment: rough around the edges, desperate, filled with rage. He and Tilda Swinton, whose character is so despicable surely she deserves everything that is coming to her, are highlights of the picture. I wished, however, that Octavia Spencer, playing an enraged mother whose son is forcibly taken from her to see Wilford (Ed Harris)—the man who runs the train, were given more to do.
There are images that come off completely fake. Every time the camera shows the icy terrain outside, just about everything looks computerized. The buildings that have collapsed look like something I have already seen from a video game back in the early 2000s. The director shows the frozen wasteland several times and it just looks cheap.
“Snowpiercer” will give the impression that it is compelling to those distracted by the action—which are mostly well-executed. Looking closer upon Joon-ho Bong and Kelly Masterson’s screenplay, however, reveals obvious questions gone unanswered, poor characterization especially that of the lead protagonist’s, and its preoccupation toward introducing surrealistic elements that do nothing to progress the pacing and the story. Ultimately, in order for a science fiction picture to impress or set a standard, it must go beyond its cool premise.