Korean director Bong Joon-ho's "Snowpiercer" is destined to be one of the summer's more talked about movies, a rococo exercise in mayhem, boldfaced allegory and ramped-up chaos. It's a summer movie with a social conscience.
With the planet having frozen over, thanks to a bungled attempt at solving global warming, the remnants of humankind ride a train that circles the globe with very little of civilization intact except its class system. The wealthy are in first class; the dregs are in the cattle cars. Overthrowing the overlords becomes the objective of the greasy masses led by Curtis (Chris Evans) and Edgar (Jamie Bell). Pushing the envelope is the aim of director Bong.
He'll never be noted for his delicate use of metaphor; his 2006 antipollution movie, "The Host," was about a people-eating sea monster in the Han River. But even if Karl Marx is haunting "Snowpiercer," the film is really about action, velocity and momentum. The train has been moving for 18 years when we get aboard, roaring along arctic expanses of a wasted world. Don't ask why or how. "Snowpiercer" proudly, and rather fiercely, resists any attempt to make it make sense, rushing the viewer across his or her chasm of incredulity and into a space where paranoia and perversity simply take over.
Bong contains much warped content within the narrow expanse of a train coach, as Curtis and Edgar and the rest of the oppressed march forward into phalanxes of axe-wielding guards and armed assassins and a system that resists their every move. Tilda Swinton, wearing one of her more appalling disguises, is Mason, the majordomo of Wilford (Ed Harris), the master of this particular universe. He is somewhere up ahead, at the engine of the train, sending edicts and execution orders back into the mess he ostensibly controls. Swinton is hilarious at moments, overextended at others (Bong's screenplay isn't the strongest part of the production), but she certainly contributes to the humor of the film, which is artfully balanced with its more grisly aspects.
PLOT En route to the end of the world, the last trainload of humanity engages in class warfare and violent revolution.
CAST Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton
BOTTOM LINE Like a runaway train, unstoppable and grotesquely fascinating.