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Fully Steamed Ahead


Snowpiercer (2014)

Anyone coming to "Snowpiercer" as a fan of Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette's graphic novels may be in for an attack of sugar rush. Bong Joon-ho's film — less an adaptation than a parallel-universe tribute act — strips out the dour Holocaust-haunted imagery and discursive chat of the original in favor of broad sci-fi pastiche, night-vision axe fights and Tilda Swinton's comedy teeth.

The result loses something in translation, but gains a few thousand watts in the caboose. Question much (or any) of the logic behind the last of humankind riding a vast train around an uninhabitable ice-bound Earth, and it crumbles in your hands. Instead the film would prefer you to grasp its grand parable, restated at regular intervals: that political revolution requires the seizing of the proverbial engine car from the gilded layabouts in first class, something Curtis (Chris Evans) and his fellow peasants from the slum carriages at the back of the train set about doing.

Someone — a likely suspect would be co-writer Kelly Masterson — has cannily leavened the script with enough genre references and actorly business to counterbalance the director's more heavy-footed instincts. The built-in trick of having the next carriage reveal some new set of decadent bozos to be fed into the mincer can only get so far though, and the film runs out of steam around the point when one bad guy from a few levels back crops up a second time for unclear reasons. By the time Ed Harris materializes as the film's own Colonel Kurtz — complete with child conscripts — the jig has been up for a while; but Mr. Harris being funny is always a sight to see.

So is Ms. Swinton's psychotic Brit bureaucrat, a nightmare vision of 1970s Labour cabinet ministers making the trains run on time. She's played for laughs, but the joke is not without fangs. Any film arranging for Alison Pill to turn up as a pregnant and hateful school teacher blazing away at Ko Ah-sung with a machine gun is doing at least something right.


Opens on June 27 in the United States.

Directed by Bong Joon-ho; written by Mr. Bong and Kelly Masterson, based on a screen story by Mr. Bong and the graphic novel “Le Transperceneige,” by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette; director of photography, Hong Kyung Pyo; edited by Changju Kim and Steve M. Choe; music by Marco Beltrami; production design by Ondrej Nekvasil; costumes by Catherine George; visual effects design by Eric Durst; produced by Tae Sung Jeong, Steven Nam, Park Chan-wook and Lee Tae-hun; released by Radius-TWC (United States). Running time: 2 hours 6 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Chris Evans (Curtis), Song Kang-ho (Namgoong Minsu), Tilda Swinton, (Mason), Jamie Bell (Edgar), Octavia Spencer (Tanya), Ewen Bremner (Andrew), Ko Ah-sung (Yona), John Hurt (Gilliam) and Ed Harris (Wilford).


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