South Korean director Bong Joon-ho is probably giving filmgoers the best action sci-fi flick of the summer. It’s got a fun international cast in a dazzlingly imagined dystopian future.
Joon-ho channels Terry Gilliam in this story about the not so distant future, and an attempt to reverse global warming. That attempt didn’t go so well, and the world gets filled with snow and freezing temperatures. All living things on Earth have perished. Yet there’s a climate-controlled bullet train with thousands of survivors. They’re separated by class; the rich folks in the front of the train living the high life. The middle class have the center cars, and the poor people are in the caboose. They live in poverty, but with John Hurt as Gilliam (perhaps a nod to Terry), we figure they won’t be down for long.
A revolution is being planned by Curtis (Chris Evans of Captain America). He looks different without the shield and cape, and with a beard. Part of them overtaking the train will involve them rushing the heavily armed guards and springing the security expert (Song Kang-ho) from his sleeping chamber. He knows everything about the train and can help in a variety of ways. His daughter will end up coming along for the ride (because Bong seems to want to use two characters that were in one of his previous films). Havoc ensues.
The fight scenes were all a lot of fun and well-shot. In one car, the security guards are armed with axes. Yes, it gets bloody.
The cast is rather impressive. An unrecognizable Tilda Swinton plays a bloodthirsty tyrant, who at times goes a bit over-the-top. As usual, she’s always a blast on screen. Octavia Spencer is a lot of fun as one of the poor people who has a son abducted by the reclusive genius running the train. We’re told he likes little boys, which adds to the sense of urgency in finding him. When they get to the cars farther along in the train and they’re offered sushi, Spencer says, “Line that s**t up!”
Allison Pill (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), is a teacher that we see in a classroom on the train. It’s a scene filled with dark humor, but a bit to reminiscent of similar scenes that shock you by being so evil in what appears to be the least likely place for it.
The film is based on a French graphic novel, and the screenplay was co-written by Kelly Masterson. Masterson gave us the incredible Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.
There’s also the best use of the Cream song Strange Brew (its inclusion serves two purposes).
The cinematography is superb. The frozen landscapes are divine visuals, and many of the set pieces are cool (yet not very practical). It’s one of the reasons that as the team of rebels continue up the train, the movie starts to slowly go off the rails. By the 3rd act, you’ll be disappointed by the whole uneven affair. You’ll notice things you saw in Brazil, Blade Runner, Clockwork Orange, Soylent Green, and Mad Max. There are also things we find out about a few characters that make little sense. Oh, and note to filmmakers: stop doing scenes where tough guys are telling you how it is – while they prepare a fancy meal?
It was a good enough movie, with a great ending. Don’t let the goofy title scare you away.
It gets 3 ½ stars out of 5.