Posted by Joel Copling on July 2, 2014

This year, a global warming experiment will wipe out life on the face of the planet, and by 2031, the relatively few survivors will have created a societal hierarchy on a type of ark--a train with an "eternal engine" and enough horsepower to circle the globe. There is the head of the train, where the worthiest are placed. There is the tail of the train, where those deemed weakest are abandoned. It is never quite determined how these victims of a closed ecosystem are chosen, though their outcome could be guessed for those paying any amount of attention. It's the group of ragtag revolutionaries whom we follow in this morbidly entertaining action/thriller apocalypse from acclaimed South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho.

Leading the tail-end's revolution is Curtis (Chris Evans), a stoic figure tired of the cramped quarters that must hold a considerable portion of the population. He, his right-hand man and lieutenant Edgar (a terrific Jamie Bell), single mother Tanya (Octavia Spencer), elderly and crippled Gilliam (John Hurt), and the rest of the citizens who, according to deranged Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton in a garish performance that feels distinctly out-of-place), must know their place in the tail-end to survive. Curtis' plan is to make it to the front of the train, where its engine's designer, Wilford (Ed Harris), resides.

The structure of "Snowpiercer" is almost startlingly repetitive, a drawback that makes its bulky 126 minutes feel draggy by the time we reach the IKEA-infused engine room. It's not much more than a relatively claustrophobic (due more to a series of dark, enclosed sequences in cramped quarters than to its overall setting, which feels like a world) series of action sequences, brutal and effective though they are (The supposed edits that producer Harvey Weinstein was to make seem nonsensical, now that this relatively straightforward, studio-friendly effort has seen release after a year of delays). Still, it's crafty and intelligent in its own right.

Some of these ideas are fairly stale ones, though. Bong's screenplay with Kelly Masterson (based on "Le transperceneige," a graphic novel by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Lagrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette) focuses so heavily on an obvious allegory about wealth-driven class division that it threatens to smother the viewer. Far more effective, then, is Bong's vision of this train as a beast all its own. Through Stefan Kovacik's eye-popping art direction, Kyung-pyo Hong's gorgeous cinematography, and a series of brutal action sequences (including a particularly effective shootout between Curtis and a henchman played by Vlad Ivanov, as the two are on opposite sides of the train, which is on a curve, while a scene in a classroom turns terrifying in an instant, courtesy of a deranged teacher played by Allison Pill), "Snowpiercer" is an effectively disturbing summer blockbuster with A-list frills.

Film Information

Chris Evans (Curtis), Kang-ho Song (Namgoong Minsoo), Ah-sung Ko (Yona), Tilda Swinton (Mason), Jamie Bell (Edgar), Octavia Spencer (Tanya), John Hurt (Gilliam), Ed Harris (Wilford), Ewen Bremner (Andrew), Emma Levie (Claude), Alison Pill (Teacher), Vlad Ivanov (Franco the Elder).

Directed by Bong Joon-ho and written by Bong and Kelly Masterson, based on .

Rated R (violence, language, drug content).

126 minutes.

Released in select cities on June 27, 2014.