COURTESY RADIUS/TWCThe performance by Tilda Swinton

COURTESY RADIUS/TWCThe performance by Tilda Swinton

‘Snowpiercer’ a wild and wonderful thriller

While its ingredients may suggest post-apocalyptic mishmash, “Snowpiercer” delivers vibrant, engrossing serio-pop entertainment as its climate-disaster and class-war stories play out on a hermetically sealed train. Writer-director Bong Joon-ho demonstrates his skills as both showman and auteur in this English-language debut.

Bong, whose Korean-language films include the monster-themed “The Host” and the madwoman melodrama “Mother,” makes expressionist pictures in which he embraces genres while also violating the recipes and going bonkers with the beaker. With “Snowpiercer,” which he and co-screenwriter Kelly Masterson adapted from a French graphic novel, he continues in that sometimes messy but often exhilarating groove.

On a globe-circling train in a near future where a climate-fix backfire has frozen the planet, an oppressive social order has divided passengers — the earth’s only human survivors — into first-class and tail-section categories. As such, they live in obscene luxury or inhuman squalor.

The action begins when a few have-nots — most prominently, leader Curtis (Chris Evans), loyal cohort Edgar (Jamie Bell) and mentorly Gilliam (John Hurt) — revolt.

Their plan involves advancing through brutally guarded cars and taking over the train’s engine. For assistance, they recruit Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho), a security expert with a drug habit, a clairvoyant daughter (Ko Ah-sung), and a smidgen of hope for the icy outside world.

The rebels progress toward the front of the train, where a barely seen evil engineer called Wilford controls the engine. An authority-obsessed piece of work named Mason (Tilda Swinton) is Wilford’s mouthpiece and the chief antagonist.

For sure, themes of climate disaster, species extinction and class warfare are hardly new — at times the film suggests a mix of “Children of Men,” “District 9,” “1984” and Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine” — and some scenarios are silly.

As Curtis, Evans (of “Captain America” fame) is credible in smudgy-faced reluctant-hero mode, but presented one-dimensionally. Octavia Spencer, as a mother looking for her missing son, is stuck in a stock role.

But overall, this is a solid, distinctive and sometimes exquisitely inspired thriller-and-beyond. Bong’s tendency to say yes rather than no — the movie has everything from Dickensian horror to contemplative monologues to outrageous social satire — translates into a stimulating canvas, and action scenes feel spontaneous, not injected at prescribed spots.

The depiction of life on the train as the heroes progress through the luxury cars — a candy-colored classroom where a teacher indoctrinates too-cheery students is particularly memorable — merits honors for design.

Swinton, whose Mason suggests a Margaret Thatcher cloning attempt that experienced complications, is herself ticket-worthy.

REVIEW Snowpiercer

★★★ Starring Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt

Written by Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Masterson

Directed by Bong Joon-ho

Rated R

Running time 2 hours, 6 minutesartsBong Joon-hoMoviesSnowpiercerSong Kang-ho

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

San Francisco Police officers speak with people while responding to a call outside a market on Leavenworth Street in the Tenderloin on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
SFPD makes the case for more officers, citing Walgreens video

Most of us have seen the video. It shows a man filling… Continue reading

A 14-Mission Muni bus heads down Mission Street near Yerba Buena Gardens. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Pandemic experiments morph into long-term solutions for SF transit agency

The streets of San Francisco became real-time laboratories for The City’s public… Continue reading

NO CONNECTION TO SERVER:
Unable to connect to GPS server ‘blackpress.newsengin.com’
Debate reignites over San Francisco’s first public bank

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, momentum was building for San Francisco to… Continue reading

Apprenticeship instructor Mike Miller, center, demonstrates how to set up a theodolite, a hyper-sensitive angle measuring device, for apprentices Daniel Rivas, left, Ivan Aguilar, right, and Quetzalcoatl Orta, far right, at the Ironworkers Local Union 377 training center in Benicia on June 10, 2021. (Courtesy Anne Wernikoff/CalMatters)
California’s affordable housing crisis: Are labor union requirements in the way?

By Manuela Tobias CalMatters California lawmakers introduced several bills this year that… Continue reading

Mayor London Breed spoke at the reopening of the San Francisco Public Library main branch on April 20. (Sebastian Miño-Bucheli/Special to The Examiner)
SF reopening more libraries through the summer

After a handful of San Francisco public libraries reopened last month for… Continue reading

Most Read