“A shoe doesn't belong on your head. A shoe belongs on your foot. A hat belongs on your head. I am a hat. You are a shoe.”
The world has ended in one fell swoop thanks to a slapdash attempt at halting global warming. A new ice age, too cold to survive- except for a few lucky passengers aboard the intercontinental train aptly named Snowpiercer. Now these 400-500 people are the only survivors left on earth.
Sound far-fetched? Maybe a little, when you think about a train that travels the whole world, never stopping. But if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief, then the rest of the film sticks to the confines of this world it has created, for the most part, and it is wholly unique. Snowpiercer is Korean director Bong Joon-ho's (The Host) first English speaking film, and has a wealth of talented cast filling its ranks.
Chris Evans stars as Curtis, a member of the last car of the train, the lowest of the low. In the absence of luxury cars or fancy apartments to show off the wealth disparity between rich and poor, the train divides its inhabitants by cars, the richest at the front, poorest at the back. For 15 years, that is how it has always been, but no longer, if Curtis and his fellow revolutionaries can help it. They aim to take control of the train. If you take the engine, you own it all. They just have to push through the front cars to get there.
The social allegory of classism and division among boundaries of wealth is rather heavy handed. The first act of the film really treats us to the oppression the back car citizens suffer, but it’s all so obviously presented. Even Mason’s (Tilda Swinton) speech “I am a hat, you are a shoe,” beats this idea into us.
That said, the film really takes off once the revolutionaries make their move. It’s a fight, tooth and nail and even fish to move from car to car. These are the best sequences in the film, and they really benefit from Joon-ho’s inspired direction and distinctly un-Hollywood approach. There are some fantastically creative scenes here, like a gunfight completely submerged in darkness as the train moves through a tunnel, illuminated only by muzzle flares.
The biggest fault of the film is that the third act is much too long. There are some shocking plot revelations, but on the whole, the film takes too long to present them to the audience. After such an explosive middle, this last act really seems to sag, and some nagging questions are also never answered. Those more accustomed to the standard Hollywood action fare may also find the ending decidedly unsatisfactory. But hey, life doesn’t always work out nicely; sometimes you just get the shoe instead of the hat.