There’s been a question rolling around this skull of mine ever since I heard that Snowpiercer wasn’t getting more than a limited release in American theaters: why (it being so short is probably why I remembered, what with my usual memory wipe via alcohol and all)? I saw the trailer and it looked amazing! It was a high concept, imaginative world with a post-apocalyptic setting (a cash cow at the moment), a theme of the rising underdog (always popular) and motherfucking Chris Evans (played by Captain America), so why weren’t Hollywood distributors on their hands and knees, strapping on lobster bibs, ready to accept the collective cocks of the filmmakers? This seemed like a no brainer! They’d be rolling in ALL the money!
I don’t have an answer to that particular question (if I did, I’d have a high paying job sucking off famous people for money…wait…I could probably still do that part…), but there are some flaws I’ve noticed after my viewing that I could see giving some pause to anyone looking to pony up fist fulls of cash. Are they deal breakers? Do they ruin the movie? Am I building up useless tension with no payoff?
Let’s find out.
If there are any gripes about the film, it’s certainly not with the premise. Snowpiercer takes place in a future where, surprise, surprise, humanity fucked everything up. This time, we solved global warming by releasing chemicals into the atmosphere. By ‘solved’, I of course mean froze the entire planet, because, you know, we needed to get the environmental message out of the way before we delved into the heavy handed theme about humanity’s lack of humanity. A single train plows through the ice and snow (sometimes literally) containing the remainder of the entire human race. These people are segregated into sections based on who had what ticket when the world ended. First class get’s all the good shit (like The Hunger Games), second class are the workers, guards, and generally anyone who keeps order (like The Hunger Games), and those who jumped on board for free in a last ditch effort for survival are kept in filth and squalor (like The Hunger Games). This is a breeding ground for revolution, and sure enough, in the eighteen years since the end of the world, there have been three.
Well, two plus the one in this movie. The cleverly titled ‘Curtis Rebellion’ is led by Curtis (Chris Evans). He’s a…person. Then there’s his second in command who’s…a person…on adderall. Then there’s the obligatory mother character, some kids, an old guy…they’re all pretty much stock characters. Some stand out compared to the others, yet it’s not because of what they do, but rather a forced decision to from the script that gives them an identity. It may not fit the character, but the story moves along, so it’s up to the audience whether or not they want to let it go in order to enjoy the movie, or to take to the internet and write a thousand word essay on why that one particular thing is bullshit.
To this movie’s credit, they do develop into more interesting people, but it’s a sllooooooow process. I didn’t remember a single name until halfway through the movie and I wasn’t convinced that any of them could even act until around the third act. The actors chosen aren’t bad at what they do, they just feel…off.
I’ve noticed a trend with foreign filmmakers taking the reigns of American actors. At first, my thoughts of seeing Chris Evans mull through his lines like he just read the script a few minutes before Action! was called made me think, ah shit, he’s downgraded back to Johnny Storm, butthat’s when I realized that his line delivery, and those of almost every character, was shockingly similar to the cast of Alien Resurrection. There’s something about delivering a line that gets lost in translation. The words coming out might be the greatest sentences mankind has ever witnessed since toasted bread fucked lunch meat (I believe they’re called paninis), but if the inflection isn’t there, say, if a director whose primary language puts different emphasis on certain phrases or desires emotional stresses that we’re not used to, then the acting might seem ‘weird’ to us.
Acting aside, there are a few character issues. Chris Evan’s Curtis is your typical bland protagonist. He has no real interesting quirk or talent that sets him apart from the others, making him the exposition machine of the film. Sure, he gets things done and others look to him like a leader (complete with the ‘I don’t want to be a leader, but it will be thrust upon me cliche), but he’s completely forgettable. Not to mention, the movie never addresses why everyone looks up to him. They just do. There’s probably some back story that I never saw, which is fine, I don’t need a two hour movie just to set up one aspect of a two hour movie (I’m looking at you Michael Bay), but they could have at least spent one line saying something about why I should believe that he’s a hero!
The ones you do remember feel like they were thrown into the film, rather than meld with the universe. Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song) comes off like that awesome badass the writer really wants others to find as awesome as he does, even though it highlights what’s uninteresting about Curtis and makes him look like a pussy by comparison. Then you have John Hurt. He plays John Hurt, the ‘old leader’ (I’m guessing, since no one turns to him for anything, he just takes the lead when standing up to Mason [Tilda Swinton]). Let’s get the bias out of the way. Whenever John Hurt speaks, it’s like catching delicate butterflies with your ear-nets as the gentle breeze of the English language passes around you. He always has been, and always will be, compelling in whatever he’s in. That said, the character of Gilliam hits every check mark in the ‘tragic older character’ handbook (only $1005.97 at your college bookstore!), robbing all surprise from my viewing experience. It’s like putting Sean Bean in a movie, but expecting us to be shocked when he’s stabbed, shot, blown up, or in one special case, falls off a cliff with a bunch of livestock.
The running themes were an issue with me as well. If there’s a moment where a political statement can be made, it’s thrown in there. Whether or not the perspective is right or wrong isn’t a problem, I’m not going to tell anyone how to think (ironic when you consider that I review movies), but there’s a time and a place to bring up a topic. If you’re focusing on how a class structure can emerge via the degradation of human society and how the oppressed will rise against those in power, don’t throw in a half-assed idea because it fits the moment. It’s not like they fuck up everything by injecting discordant points of view, it just makes the film feel disjointed.
“Obviously,” you must be saying, “you hated this movie.”
Nope. Not at all. In fact, I quite liked this film.
“Then what the fuck bro?!? Y U H8TIN?!?”
First of all, if you actually write like that, die in a fire. Secondly, I want it to be known that while I enjoyed myself, this film has issues. If you saw the trailer, you’d be like me, wondering why no one was taking the shaft all the way to the balls to release Snowpiercer. Well, these are the reasons. Tack on an ending that is far from uplifting and doesn’t say much about humanity, and you’re talking about a risky movie that probably won’t sell well. If Snowpiercer focused more on the rebellion and what it takes to carry one out instead of trying to take on every dense topic that popped up, maybe it would have kept me from checking my watch so often.
When this movie hooks you, it hooks you. That’s saying something. That’s why I end up spending so much time talking shit about it. It’s like public transportation. Whatever you’re on finally gets going and just as you think you’re going to get away from the fish breath of the homeless man pushing up against you, the stop request light goes on and a single cocksucker gets off. It may be the fastest way home, but fuck that shit.
Frankly, I’ll recommend Snowpiercer to just about everyone, despite having a lot to say about it’s faults. If all goes right, maybe they’ll set the bar a little lower and come back to me with “The fuck is wrong with you?!? That movie was awesome! Do you not like good things?!?” If that happens, then I’ve done my job. Sometimes, it’s not about whether or not it’s a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ movie, it’s about perspective and expectations. This review may quash your expectations due to the negativities, yet I wish someone did that for me before I saw Snowpiercer. Honestly, most people won’t give a single solitary fuck about a lot of the shit I mentioned. Only those people who really delve into the nuances of the film will let these things bug them (you know, like someone who reviews them in their spare time). For everyone else, you’ll probably overlook these problems, not even noticing they were there in the first place.
So, go on, Check it out. Have some fun.