I had high hopes for this movie, which I should have taken as a bad omen from the start. Rule #1 of movie watching: always have low expectations. Any time a new sci-fi or fantasy movie comes out, my family waits with anticipation for the reviews– anything over 20% on Rotten Tomatoes usually gets a view from us. We entered the theater in hopes that this movie might be the gem of the summer. Sometimes we luck out and get a movie like Stardust or Pacific Rim, with the perfect balance of cool action scenes and interesting characters. And…sometimes we get a movie like Snowpiercer.
The first few minutes set up a pretty cool premise. In an attempt to cure global warming, humanity sprays a mysterious chemical known as C-7 into the atmosphere. They accidentally plunge the Earth into an apocalyptic ice age, wiping out all life apart from the small number of human passengers who boarded a highly advanced train just prior to the disaster. The train travels in a giant loop around the world, making one cycle each year. In a fairly bleak statement about human nature, a nasty caste system develops on the train prior to the film’s opening, with the decadent “front-enders” dominating the tail section, keeping them in poverty and deprivation. The oppressed tailer-enders follow Curtis (Chris Evans) in his attempt to reach the front of the train and control the engine.
The premise, along with a couple of character twists that I won’t spoil for you, might have elevated this movie to at least a B+ if not for a few serious pitfalls. This movie made similar allegorical claims to Lord of the Flies, but did it far less skillfully. Both issued highly pessimistic statements on human nature and featured a certain amount of death and violence, but at least Lord of the Flies pulled its punches to some extent. Snowpiercer made the same point by showing its audience long, drawn out, loving scenes of guys stabbing and shooting and hacking each other to bits. After a certain point, the violence wasn’t gruesome anymore–it was just boring. As I averted my eyes to avoid seeing a handsome actor get stabbed into a bloody creme brûlée, I thought, “What is the point of this again? Oh, right. Humanity is violent and hierarchical. Got it.” Allegory is great, and important. One of the chief functions of any art form is to call out flaws in society and human nature. But to take a line from the immortal Soapdish, my advice to this movie would be: let’s not underline the point, let’s just make it.
I may not be the best person to review this movie because, as I have mentioned, it doesn’t take a lot for me to make an emotional connection. With something so over the top as this movie, it’s much easier for me just to detach entirely. Also, while I appreciate an aesthetic film, visual beauty is less important to me than interesting dialogue. So a movie like Rear Window, where the visuals are limited but the writing is awesome, would get a higher score from me than a movie like Snowpiercer, where the visuals are cool but the writing is meh. So with that, let’s have a look at this movie’s rosie stats…
acting score– 7/10
writing score– 5/10
does it pass the Bechdel Test?*– no (-5)
That leaves us with an overall score of 20/30, minus 5 for failing the Bechdel Test, leaving us with 15/30, or 50%.
If you have a good stomach for violence and can take a little silliness, definitely see this movie and show your support for quirky, unusual sci-fi films. Chris Evans is not a bad actor (as my mom says “serviceable”), and there are some interesting character elements and important, if clumsy, warnings about society and inequality. If that doesn’t entice you, stay home and rent a copy of Pacific Rim instead.
*The Bechdel Test, named for cartoonist Alison Bechdel, has this criteria: two named female characters must talk to each other about a subject other than men at some point during the movie.