A TRAIN HURTLES over the dead Earth, speeding across deep-frozen plains and carving a path around oceans of ice. The desiccated skeletons of cities blur by, as do old automobiles and abandoned ships; every once in a great while, the train shoots by a pile of huddled corpses, half-buried in the snow. The vague lumps are all that's left of those who were outside when the world froze.
Inside the train, things are worse.
Bong Joon-ho has directed some fantastic movies—most notably The Host and Mother—which means that to call Snowpiercer his best movie yet is a pretty bold statement. But it is. It's also almost certain to be one of the best movies of the year—it's weird and funny, surprising and surreal, goofy and vicious. Snowpiercer is filmmaking as allegory, agitprop, and adventure, and it's also a film in which Chris Evans uses an ax to fuck up a whole lot of people.
Evans plays Curtis—dirty, cranky, bearded, and as good with that ax as Captain America is with his shield. Like most of the dirty, cranky people on the train, Curtis lives at the tail end, crammed tight into narrow cars, subsisting on slimy, gelatinous "protein bars," and at gunpoint, doing whatever the rich bastards at the front of the train tell him to do. Said rich bastards are embodied, in gloriously horrific form, by Mason (Tilda Swinton). Shielded by thick-lensed glasses, her condescending voice slick with poison, Mason occasionally visits the huddled masses in steerage—both to mete out punishment and to make grand speeches about how life in the closed ecosystem of this "rattling ark" requires rules. Only if each of the refugees from the old world keeps their "allotted station," Mason insists, can life on the train—and thus life on Earth—continue. As the battered train slices through the lifeless white of a post-human world, Mason doles out axioms as hard and immutable as the tracks underneath: "All things flow from the Sacred Engine!" she proclaims giddily to the stinking, beaten-down rabble. "All things in their place!"
Rebellions have erupted on the train in the past, and they will erupt again—as Curtis and the others at the back, including Gilliam (John Hurt), Edgar (Jamie Bell), and Tanya (Octavia Spencer) are well aware. Only this rebellion is different: In addition to Curtis and his trusty ax, it features Minsu (Song Kang-ho), who, with the help of his daughter Yona (Ko Ah-sung), can open the doors between cars. When they aren't stoned out of their minds, at least.
Snowpiercer's relentless, clear-eyed, and earnestly justified us-against-them attitude somehow manages to be both bloodily in your face and deftly nuanced. The train's locked-down class system resembles late-stage American capitalism as much as anything—nobody ever said allegory had to be subtle—but at no point does Snowpiercer feel preachy, obnoxious, or dependent on anything but itself to work. This is a film informed by and applicable to reality, but it's also a sci-fi movie set on a superfast futuretrain, which means it's fun and exciting and unpredictable, both heartfelt and bizarre. Come for the fantastic performances, the stunning visuals, and Bong Joon-ho's startling vision. Stay for a few handy tips on how to start a revolution.