A Masterclass in Sci-fi Action, Snowpiercer Blends Class Struggle with Dystopian Drama from One of Cinema’s Most Promising Directors
Every nerd worth their stack of comic con badges is already a Chris Evans fan. His run through the comic book universe is of epic proportions. He first starred as the Human Torch in the original Fantastic Four, later playing Jensen in the special forces romp The Losers and a member of the League of Evil Exes in Scott Pilgrim vs The World. This was, of course, all before he became the captain of our big screens and our hearts by donning the shield as Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
One of Evan’s best films that often gets overlooked is Snowpiercer, a violent satirical film about class warfare. In Snowpiercer, the poor are subjugated by an elite ruling class, their labor used to literally and metaphorically keep the machine moving along.
After an environmental apocalypse covers the entire world with snow, the last gasp of humanity is on a train traveling the globe on an endless loop. The lower class is kept in the back while the upper class lives towards the engine. It’s been this way for decades. Finally, a revolution begins.
Snowpiercer was the first English-language film for Korean director Bong Joon Ho. Long before his work cleaned up at the Academy Awards, he was the talented director with great takes on genre film. Snowpiercer is a lot like his most recent film Parasite, but with more fights on a train.
The film debuted in 2013. It was a Korean film nationally distributed by The Weinstein Company after a strong series of award nominations and reviews came in from the initial screenings. It only made about $80 million nationally against a budget of $40 million, which makes it still the most expensive Korean film ever produced.
Snowpiercer is a statement of violence and classism mixed well and shaken by a train ride. It’s worth checking out.
Careful with that Ax, Chris Evans
Snowpiercer is loaded with insane fight scenes. Because the lowest class of people are kept in the very rear of the train, they fight their way to the front with the intention of taking the train over. They want to live a life of comfort and happiness instead of being kept on the verge of starvation and utilized for resources.
During their fight to the front, our cast of downtrodden passengers enter a car full of security forces armed with axes. Right before the two groups collide, the lights are turned off and the security forces activate their night vision. The ensuing carnage is devastating for the rebel forces until Evan’s character Curtis Everett counters with a call for torches. The light blinds the security forces just long enough for the rebels to regain the upper hand. It’s truly brutal, and it’s just one of the many action-heavy sequences.
This scene is also important because it leads to Everett’s young protégé being murdered during an attempted hostage exchange. It’s incredibly emotional, especially when we learn the backstory of the two characters later in the movie. But honestly, there’s a flipping ax fight in Snowpiercer. Your brain is kind of focused on that for a while. Besides old school martial arts movies, the ax is just one of those weapons that is grossly underused in movie fights.
The International Cast Carries the Movie
Snowpiercer is just loaded with people you want to see on screen. Ed Harris shines as the all-important Wilford, the train’s conductor, inventor, and owner. He looms over the film until the very end. The late John Hurt portrays Gilliam, the archetypal sage of wisdom and morality. The legendary Tilda Swinton, Oscar winning Octavia Spencer, Jaime Bell and Ewen Bremner make appearances as well. Kang-ho Song holds his own as one of the leads, and you believe Ko Asung’s emotional journey from despair to hope. Of course, Evans himself delivers a great performance as the lead in a film that in many ways calls back to his role as Captain America. There aren’t a lot of “empty” roles in this movie. The result is a film that is, quite simply, worth watching.
The Progression of Cars Gets More “Out of this World”
Probably one of the coolest things in the whole movie is the steadily advancing progress through the train. You see the cars of increasing quality as the rebels progress. The first car leads to a horrible revelation: the characters’ protein bars, their only real source of sustenance, are made from ground-up roach colonies bred for that specific purpose. Very soon, they come to the water filtration car, where they have the ax fight. Soon after, they come across a sushi car where once every six months the elite are allowed to have a specific type of role. They walk through an aquarium car, a birdhouse car, and a school car. The school car opens up of the myth of the conductor.
Eventually, the story progresses to cars with nightclubs, hot tubs, VIP access, bottle service, and an abundance of drugs. The elite enjoy a life of partying and libations, waiting for the world to get better. Snowpiercer provides a visual treat to see how the various mini-ecosystems are kept working on a high-speed train zooming around the world. The idea of being in the sauna/spa car is at this point a highlight of luxury and comedy.
Satire Not so Silly in Snowpiercer
Snowpiercer has plenty of fighting and explosions, but it went more for guffaws than gasps. The film plays out as all great action-satires do, with a questionable moral choice and a brave new option chosen at the end. The rich are portrayed as the scum of the universe, snatching children and people with useful skills. A roll call is sent out for a violin player. When an elderly couple reveals they both can play and ask to come up to the front together, the guards break the the old woman’s hand so that only the man can play. He is dragged up front. The poor are always the victims of this one-sided arrangement.
While that plays out in a great satirical moment, there are real questions. What state would the poor people be in if they hadn’t been allowed to board the train? Would they even be alive considering the massive polar vortex plaguing the world of these characters? If so, is this actually a life worth living?
There’s a twist at the end of the movie that forces the viewer to question some of the pivotal motivations of the film. Overall, Snowpiercer is a film of great action that poses compelling questions while delivering on a few hours of entertainment. It seems that this Bong Joon Ho fella knows what he is doing. A TV version made for cable has help to spread the gospel of this great movie.
So why haven’t you seen Snowpiercer yet?
We know cyberpunk movies, so let us tell you what you’re missing. What’s timeless? What didn’t age so well? Share this article, and we’ll make the case for Snowpiercer.
Did we miss something here? Was there an unforgettable scene or classic one-liner that just shouldn’t be left out? What are your favorite parts of this movie? Leave us a comment below, and we’ll try to update the article with your suggestions!