Chris Evans is finished. The young, handsome, highly prolific Captain America has announced that he will not pursue acting beyond his Marvel Contract and the Avengers sequels. So what does an actor with every door open to him do with no time left? This one made Snowpiercer.
Set in 2031, 17 years after global warming heralded a frozen apocalypse and the destruction of the world’s population, the only survivors ride a bullet train whose tracks circumnavigate the globe every year, keeping its passengers safe from the cold. As in H.G.Wells’ ‘The Time Machine’ a devastating future has divided the survivors into two camps, the 3rd-class unfortunates relegated to the back of the train (Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell and John Hurt, amongst others) and the privileged, represented by an almost unrecognisable Tilda Swinton as Mason.
Curtis (Evans) and his compatriots struggle daily with their lot, cognisant, resentful and largely unexposed to the lifestyles of those in the front carriages as Mason holds up a shoe to remind the squalid that they are the foot whilst she is the head, their order having been pre-ordained. Curtis begins a struggle to liberate his peers and along with the others advance through the carriages against their oppressors. Think the ‘Train’ stage on Goldeneye with terminal winter.
The large-scale battles between Curtis, his crew and their oppressors are numerous while the one-on-one fight scenes are fewer and far in between. The film is not unlike 300 in that a small crew have to combat a larger and seemingly insurmountable foe; most notably during an axe fight Curtis storms down the carriage up-ending enemies in slow motion as the Spartan leader had done before him, having foregone in this case Leonidas’ hardened battle gear.
The collective action endears the group as a whole rather than any one individual which unfortunately means that we don’t get to spend nearly enough time with any character except Curtis before they are wantonly killed as if they were beloved Starks. Spencer is neglectfully underutilized with Swinton getting most of the good lines and action, Alison Pill from ‘The Newsroom’ makes a noteworthy cameo. The constant death nevertheless reminds us of Curtis’ world in which all that we know has gone and where like in Casablanca, life is cheap.
The oppressed marvel at lost wonders like sushi and eggs to really bring home the post-global warming hellscape, but it is belief that actually drives this movie. Wilfred, the engineer responsible for the sacred engine, is upheld as the divine keeper who saved everyone’s lives with his iconographic ‘W’ appearing everywhere you look. In this brave new world there is no place for another religion and like the ‘Model T’ is the basis for a new order which the disgruntled are forced to challenge.
Imagine Wall-E in live-action where the protagonist survives a climate-ridden wasteland to encounter a privileged class oblivious to the reality around them even when our heroes rear their heads; just with more violence. Curtis makes his way through the carriages past many who confront him and others who don’t seem to care, finally reaching a confrontational and not unsatisfying finale.
Snowpiercer does beleaguer the point about global warming with constant reminders of the devastation the phenomenon has brought on the planet, most evident through the opening credits-overlay. In spite of this the film is not preachy and is ultimately a good thriller.
Curtis was desperate. Evans is not. They’re both running up to the end of time with the latter possessing more choices than the character he portrayed. Turned out he made a good call.