While it’s a bit heavy with its themes, this adult-oriented Polar Express is different enough from the blockbuster category it reluctantly resides in to be worthy of viewership from anyone with a theater screening it.
All formalities out of the way, it’s a good movie that isn’t being released very widely, so it might be a bit of a drive for you to find a theater showing it. With that said, it’s definitely worthy of going out of your way for. While the movie has its share of flaws such as so-so dialogue and CGI that suffers from a limited budget, there’s enough good in Snowpiercer to overcome the bad.
Based off the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, Snowpiercer follows the story of the titular train and its cycle around an ice-aged earth, seventeen years in the future. The people within are segregated to front and back workers, with the front being the privileged and the back being the impoverished. Curtis (Chris Evans), the makeshift leader of the impoverished, decides that the proletariat need to rise up and overtake the bourgeoisie, train car by train car until they reach the engine. While the plot starts off different enough from its graphic novel counterpart, the final act is ripped almost directly from the pages of Snowpiercer’s source material. So, for fans of the graphic novel, there is homage paid here and an engrossing story for newcomers alike.
While I could ramble about the performances (Song Kang-Ho steals the show in every scene) being top notch, which they are, I’d rather focus on the unique aspects of the film that are worth mentioning. The first noteworthy quality of Snowpiercer is its incorporation of the titular train. While some movies might use a really interesting sci-fi backdrop as nothing more than a plot setup device, the train really does affect how the movie progresses, and is in a sense the most important character of all. Not to mention the movie perfectly acknowledges the weight and girth of a giant train, using the theater’s sound system to its fullest advantage to deliver the hissing, rattling and churning of humanity’s locomotive ark.
Another special quality Snowpiercer has are its fight scenes. Not only do they manage to pull off the shaky-camera effect so many movies botch, but they use really interesting and dynamic aesthetic choices (one particular scene with torches is a stand-out). These things may seem small, but they add up to create some of the most impressive and memorable fights I’ve ever seen on the big screen.
Lastly, something a lot of other reviews aren’t really mentioning is the excellent soundtrack. I can’t describe it with words, but it sounds really, really good.
The cons of the movie aren’t anything massive, but they do leave a bit of a dent on an otherwise breakout success. The writing offers up a few cringe-worthy lines of dialogue, and some characters (especially in the final act) are too predictable to be interesting. As for the somewhat lacking CGI, I can’t fault the movie with that as the budget these guys had to work with wasn’t the best for top notch visual effects. And aside from those two gripes, there really isn’t much else to fault Snowpiercer with.
If you go in with an open mind, I think you’ll walk out with a surprise entry to your “favorite movies of the year” list. It’s definitely not something Hollywood would ever have the balls to produce, and the plot alone is shocking enough to keep you on your seat until the satisfying finale. Couple that with great acting, a one-of-a-kind sci-fi setting and Bong Joon-Ho’s cinematic prowess, and you have a remarkable two hours of film that takes no stops until it reaches its climatic, final destination.