Joon-ho Bong’s latest film, SNOWPIERCER is a mildly entertaining affair. It’s a fun sci-fi tale with some action and a cast of assorted characters, some more entertaining than others, but the film as a whole left me wanting.
I enjoyed two of Bong’s previous films, THE HOST and MOTHER. Both dark films with an unusual humor embedded at their cores. A unique combination of styles that seemed to work for me in those films.
SNOWPIERCER owes the inspiration for much of its landscape and characters to filmmaker Terry Gilliam. So much so that one of the characters is actually named after him.
But SNOWPIERCER never hit the level of wit or whimsey that Gilliam so organically produces. I was surprised to read so many outright glowing reviews from top critics who all seemed to relish this film as being both extremely intelligent and full of terrific action sequences. It’s certainly not a dumb film, especially compared to the usual breed of contemporary Hollywood actioners out there, but the film has a better premise than it does execution. At least for my tastes.
An unusual international cast was brought together for the film and, while that would seem in concept to be one of its attractions, I actually found it to be rather distracting as I could feel the filmmakers pulling the cast together. It felt less a natural ensemble than a calculated decision. And some of the actors, like Octavia Spencer, felt quite out of place to me. More a screen-test than a performance. I felt the actors sitting in their makeup chairs, I felt the wardrobe stylists picking and choosing, cutting and fraying. I even felt the sets being built and the extras being directed. In other words, something kept me from buying into the world of this film. There was something self-conscious about it all for me.
As for the action sequences? They were serviceable, but never visceral enough to get my adrenaline going.
And the only character/actor in the film who actually elicited some emotion and reaction from me, dies pretty early in the tale, leaving me with a ragtag group of oddities that never quite gel into the community I wanted to feel they were. Chris Evans, as the leader of this troupe, never manages to own the film in the way some leading men can. And it’s always fun to see the likes of John Hurt, Tilda Swinton and Ed Harris but, like most of the cast, they felt more prop or type than actual characters. They served a purpose, but rarely told a story.
I was initially excited to see a film that, though I had heard little about it until recently, had garnered such favorable reviews from such a wide swath of critics. So perhaps my expectations were just a tad too high going in. Or perhaps my bar for such fare is simply set higher than most. One thing the film DID succeed at, however, and I would be remiss in omitting this from my commentary, is that as an ex-smoker, SNOWPIERCER really made me remember the deep, visceral pleasure of inhaling tobacco smoke. Never did one simple cigarette look so thoroughly irresistible.