Snowpiercer ★★★★½

This movie is certainly successful despite -and definitely not because of - its intended goals. It is clear from the start that director Joon-Ho Bong intends his big-budget sci-fi romper to be Anti-Train propaganda. The plot is that all of mankind has been boarded on a supertrain to survive in a post-apocalyptic society where the head of the train includes the rich and the rear of the train includes cramped and starving poor. The train and its engineer are portrayed as lacking in empathy at best, corrupt and immoral at worst, and a band of folks rebels, making their way from the rear of the train all the way to the front.

Viewers should be warned that this movie is very political; Bong clearly reviles trains. I am avoiding spoilers, but suffice to say the train does not hurtle around the globe through the frozen landscape on rainbows and hope. The front cars are full of cartoonishly evil people, and at one point a protagonist suggests destroying the train completely. This is all well and good as an opinion. I want to be clear that I am not docking half a star because of Bong's opinions on trains; I am docking a star because he clearly hates trains yet made one of the coolest trains I have ever seen in a movie. Each car in the train houses a different setpiece, like an aquarium or a rave or a greenhouse. There are a lot of gorgeous parts to this train, and if the trains in my city were more like this, I would ride them even more often than I do now. These settings undercut how morally abominable the trains' conditions are supposed to be. How can something be so evil when it has so much beauty on the inside?

It is very refreshing that this movie takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, as personally this film goer is very tired of Hollywood's insistence on telling pre-apocalyptic stories, whose riches have finally been exhausted in this year's brilliant The LEGO Movie. Snowpiercer splits the difference between Hollywood's norms and the filmmakers' imagination. In the world presented by this movie, there is nothing but ice and snow outside the train, so there wouldn't be much reason to tell a story there. All the people are inside the train, and it is generally easier to tell stories with people than with landscapes. There are signs of a braver film here, one that is based not on characters but on snowscapes, but I understand audiences' reluctance to see big-budget movies about piles of snow.

This movie has very good action and just as good acting. It's just too bad that it is so confused about what it wants to be.