People are usually fully-entrenchedthe first time they watch “Snowpiercer.” They get told by their friends to watch the film without knowing exactly what its about. “Don’t worry about the plot, just go in and enjoy it,” these friends say. And then they induct a new group of “Snowpiercer” fans into their midst, ones who will eventually replace the older disenfranchised “Snowpiercer” fans, starting the process all over again. Wash, rinse, Chris Evans, repeat.
I am like one of these friends who baited people to watch “Snowpiercer.” When I first saw it in 2014, it really was a transformative movie-going experience despite not knowing anything about it before stepping into the theater. Watching it for maybe the third or fourth time now in 2017, it still holds up its gory, “Occupy Wall Street”-esque charm, but its political leanings and twist are much less impactful. The entire notion of a rich vs. poor society existing on a train seems wildly inventive and incredibly stupid. And the story feels like a movie simultaneously written by and exclusively marketed for a group of freshman college students who just read the entirety of the Wikipedia page on Communism when they felt compelled to write a screenplay.
But regardless of whether you think its smart or silly, one can’t deny that “Snowpiercer” is good fun. The movie follows Curtis (played by Chris Evans), a beard-wearing, blue collar type who lives among other working class folk in the back section of an eternally-moving train that carries all the survivors of a global ice age. One of his friends is Gillam, an older, idealistic figure played by John Hurt. The two plan a revolution to get to the front of the train and reclaim a sense of fairness and equality for their poorer brethren. But after slo-mo axe battles and James Bond-esque snowy gunfights, Curtis learns the truth that everything on the train, from the class distinctions to the revolt itself, is carefully planned and maintained, as predictable and acceptable as a simple-minded goldfish eating its flaky food. He has a crisis of conscious while his buddy Namgoong Minsoo (played by Kang-ho Song) tries to blow up the train. And then Minsoo’s daughter and the son of Octavia Spencer’s character Tanya survive and try to fend for themselves in the snowy apocalyptic aftermath.
Of course, all of this is thrilling on first viewing. It’s seemingly unpredictable, and feels like a wholly realized cinematic universe built scrap metal and polished steel is unfolding for the first time in front of our very eyes. But second time around that steel becomes rusted, a storytelling opportunity thwarted from reaching its full potential. It seems the natural way for writer and director Joon-ho Bong to have gone is asking his characters “if there were a chance you could live on the outside of the train, would you have the desire or even the courage to take it?” But the whole wealthy vs. poor thing we get instead seems really silly, an out-of-date attempt to appeal to anyone who’s ever protested anything pre-Trump era, or has ever been annoyed by a douchebag in a BMW.
It’s hard to admit since it is so much fun, but “Snowpiercer” is outdated, a byproduct of a time where rich vs. poor was the main battle the country was facing, rather than our current Trump supporters vs. everyone else. Watching “Snowpiercer” in 2017 feels like watching a movie about the Iraq war in 2013, or a film about 9/11 in 2008 or 2009. There’s only a small amount of time where you can make a political statement in a movie and have that political statement still feel relevant. I don’t know enough about Joon-ho Bong to say if he’s a “political” filmmaker, but his recent flick “Okja” shows he has a keen ability to craft a story that echoes a certain political or social argument. But “Snowpiercer” proves that while he may be a passionate cinematic speech maker, his message melts like snow as the years go on.