What were they thinking? How can you mess this up? You had one job. Make a story that was already written with the concept of «Train goes over frozen earth, people despair». Easy, right? No, apparently not, because this is a very dull movie.
Snowpiercer looks awesome. You have endless winter wonderlands, you have a superawesome train that is the last bastion of humanity who travels around the world with no place to go and nothing to do. And you have Chris Evans in the starring role. So where did this go wrong?
Basically, the makers of this movie completely misunderstood the comic. Sure, the story of the movie shares many elements with that of the comic book. After an experiment that should fix global warming that has gone wrong, the Earth is frozen over. A last few survivors managed to board a train called The Snowpiercer. The train functions independently of the world, having its own botanic gardens, its own meat production facilities and so on. The poor people live in Third Class at the back of the train in utter poverty and the rich people live in First Class at the top of the train. Our main character must go from the tail of the train to the front.
And that’s where it ends. If you want to know what goes on in the comic book and what its central themes are, check out our review of the comic book that we posted last week.
The movie subsequently buggers up. Mainly because the writers and directors thought it was a good idea to make this an action movie with class war elements in it. You get that point after the rather impressive speech by Tilda Swinton’s character about how the First Class is civilized and the Third Class is just a bit above a bunch of animals. All this while the lackeys of Swinton’s First-Class-persona hold a guy’s arm out of a conveniently placed hatch so that it freezes off.
Oh yeah, that’s another thing that doesn’t add up. The people from First Class are unusually cruel in this one, whereas their comic book counterparts do see them as somewhat less civilized but ultimately human and pitiable, going as far as having a political faction that seeks to integrate the Third Class into the First and Second Classes. And despite the fact that the First Class people don’t shy away from doing unspeakable and horrible things – that always conveniently happen off screen because you can’t lose that PG13-rating – they do supply the Third Class with protein blocks that they invented aboard the train.
After the six minutes Tilda Swinton uses for exposition and chastising the third class while a guy’s arm freezes off, you get the entire plot of the movie. The further to the front of the train you get, the more cruel the First Class gets. This movie is two hours long. So you have one hour and fifty-nine minutes where nothing happens other than this plot going on. There are no further twists and one of the worst endings in recent history. It completely negates everything the comic book wanted to tell us. You know how the comic book wants us to realize that we’re basically all in the same boat after all? Yeah, not so much in the movie. It’s awful.
This is because the comic book is a rather slow story of despair and pointlessness. The moviemakers tried to make an action movie of it. Some sort of thriller, even. And it just doesn’t work. At all. For a two-hour action movie, you need more than just «People with no characters walk from point A to point B» as well as some completely idiotic «Give me Liberty or Give me Death»-nonsense. Look at other movies that excel at this. Substituting for all the movies that do it right, let’s look at Dredd. What the movie lacks in plot, it makes up for in spectacular action scenes, grandiose sets and stellar performances by the actors. Snowpiercer has nothing of that. Well, almost nothing.
Even more bewildering is that the makers of this film decided to up the religious subplot to ridiculous levels. In the comic book, there are people worshipping the Holy Loco, the engine of the train that keeps humanity alive forever. They appear once. As a sort of sideshow, illustrating what humanity has become. In this movie, after 17 years aboard the Snowpiercer, the people in Frist Class are all zealots, worshipping the almighty builder of the train. And what comes of this plot? Nothing. Zero. People scream the man’s name, everyone looks gleeful and that’s it. There’s also a drug subplot that is forgotten as quickly as it pops up, only to then pointlessly reappear towards the end.
To cram all this unnecessary and pointless rubbish into the movie, they had to cut things out. Remember the point about the broken window I made last week and how that window can never be replaced again because there are no spares anywhere on Earth, even if the train could stop? Yeah, never mentioned here. In fact, windows and thus insulation is treated as negligible. There’s temperatures that are able to freeze a man’s arm off in six minutes or less outside the train. You do not go shoot at windows under any circumstance.
So is there anything good in this movie? Yeah, there is. The sets are well designed. So are the costumes and the characters. They’re not good characters, mind you, and the actors aren’t doing a particularly good job at any of them, but they look good. The people in Third Class are all dirty, they have scars and they’re not particularly pretty. Even Chris Evans comes off as sort of ugly. And some people lack limbs. There’s a reason for that, which is kind of really horrible, but gets drowned out by the rest of the horribleness of the movie. The Third Class wears almost all black and grey and shredded clothes. The people from the First Class on the other hand are clean, hygienic, wear colourful clothes that are impractical. The sets reflect that. Dirt, barren, crowded in the tail, spacious and clean as well as decorated in the front.
Still, you don’t care about any of these things after suffering through this movie where literally nothing happens for 95.2% of the film (oh yeah, I calculated this, that’s how much time I had) and all you get to do is watch people walking through increasingly opulent sets. Sure, there’s the occasional fight scene, but even that can’t save the movie. Because the scenes aren’t good or new or anything. They’re just there to add more padding to a movie that basically is nothing but padding.
So don’t go see this. It might be good for a cuddly afternoon on the couch when there’s nothing else happening, but definitely not worth the admission into the cinema and the obligatory drink as well as the bag of popcorn. Should you still want to go see it in cinemas, it starts next week in Swiss cinemas.
Still, to get a bit of an impression of what could have been, have a look at the trailer. Because that really is good.