Reviewing the Queue: Snowpiercer (2013)

With the digital libraries of online streaming services expanding more and more, choosing which movie to watch has become difficult. I will be digging through these online queues in hopes of bringing you a movie worth your time. Up first is Snowpiercer, a steampunk action film directed by Joon-ho Bong and starring Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton and available on Netflix.

Snowpiercer attempts to carve out a spot for itself in the cavernous post-apocalyptic genre, and while it doesn’t redefine it, the film does give us a unique take on the upper class suppressing the lower class trope. Set in the near future where a failed climate-change experiment has brought upon a brutal ice age leaving Earth uninhabitable, a select few of mankind continue living aboard the Snowpiercer, a mega train that travels the globe. Over time, a class system has emerged onboard the train, where the residents of the rear are all but ignored, left struggling to survive in unbearable conditions and forced to eat black, gelatinous bricks merely refered to as protein blocks.

John Hurt, Chris Evans, and Jamie Bell all star in 2013's Snowpiercer as Gilliam, Curtis, and Edgar respectively.
From left to right: Gilliam (John Hurt), Curtis (Chris Evans), and Edgar (Jamie Bell).

Chris Evans (Captain America) plays Curtis, a 34-year-old man living in the back of the train. Curtis has spent exactly half of his life on the train, and he’s just about had enough. Curtis, along with friend Edgar (Jaime Bell from Billy Elliot) and under the guidance of the back-of-the-train leader/sage Gilliam (John Hurt), begins planning a revolution. One day, representatives from the front of the train show up, led by the deliriously-twisted Mason, played wonderfully by Tilda Swinton. Mason is second in command on Snowpiercer, only answering to the mysterious Wizard of Oz-like man behind the curtain, Wilford (Ed Harris). Wilford needs children, and has sent his representatives back to select two of the tiniest kids to take to the front. Why exactly Wilford needs two children, we’re not sure. But it can’t be good.

An almost unrecognizable Tilda Swinton as Mason.

This is the last straw for Curtis and his fellow people. The next time the protein blocks are to be delivered, Curtis will trigger the revolution. His plan hinges on one major assumption: the guns that the guards hold are bulletless, believing that the ammunition supply had run dry long ago. So when the next batch of protein blocks are delivered, Curtis puts his plan in motion. All of this exposition occurs in the first 20 minutes or so, and almost as quickly as he’s introduced, Curtis and his team of rebels are off and headed to the front of the train for a date with Wilford while dragging Mason along as a hostage.

Curtis (Chris Evans) gambled that the guns were empty, and he won.

What follows is a mash-up of different styles, from Kung Fu to Tarrantino-esque carnage. The set design from Ondrej Nekvasil is the perfect mix of steampunk-meets-Metropolis. One of the most enjoyable parts is how the setting changes in each train car as the group makes its way to the front. During the trip, we see an aquarium, a meat locker, a nightclub, a sauna, and a sushi bar, among others. But the scene that stands out to me most is the classroom where the group encounters a teacher (Alison Pill) who is just as much brainwashed by the enigmatic Wilford as are her students. The way the students sing and chant is surreal, and also provides the director an easy way to show us some of the propaganda distributed to the children of the train’s elite.

This film isn’t perfect, but it certainly has its enjoyable moments. If you can get over some of the implausibilities (The scene of the invincible hitman trying to shoot Curtis throw the windows of the train while it rides along a sharp turn jumps to mind.), then you’ll find that the well-choreographed fight scenes and beautiful set designs make Snowpiercer a ride worth taking.

Things to think about while watching:

  • What are the protein blocks made of?
  • What did they eat before the protein blocks?
  • Why not give the back of the train windows?
  • Is an aquarium really the best use of space?
  • What's Gilliam's story?

Have you seen Snowpiercer? Do you have any suggestions about what I should watch next? Let me know in the comments!


Joe Brosnan is an editor and writer for Criminal Element who graduated from Marist College. He spends his time obsessing equally over the Game of Thrones series and the New York Giants, and is only now realizing how weird it is to write in the third person. You can follow him on Twitter @joebro33.

Read all of Joe Brosnan's posts for Criminal Element.

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