Review: Snowpiercer is an unstoppable class war on wheels

Jennifer Connelly and Daveed Diggs on Snowpiercer. Pic credit: TNT/Justina Mintz

Back in 2013, Oscar-winning director Bong-Joon Ho (Parasite) adapted and directed a screenplay called Snowpiercer.

The film perfectly encapsulated the societal and science-fiction concepts cooked up originally in Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette’s French graphic novel Le Transperceneige into a two-hour action film.

Now TNT has added to the mythology with a serialized drama, which already received a green light another 10-episode season. The first season started tonight.

Snowpiercer: The Movie

The basic premise of Snowpiercer is a post-apocalyptic story with the world set into a new ice age. The colder the planet got, the more uninhabitable it became.

The only survivors were those that boarded a 1,001-car train called the Snowpiercer, built by transportation mogul Mr. Wilford.

Snowpiercer runs nonstop across the frozen world with all of the food and entertainment anyone could need. Ticketed patrons were the only ones allowed to board the train, a price so high that only the rich and elite could afford the survival.

However, a few dozen working-class citizens stormed the train as it was leaving and were immediately forced to the tail end of the train, left to rot. They were given no food, fought off disease and filth, and resorted to harsh decisions to survive.

The film took place 17 years after the event. Curtis, played by Chris Evans, leads a group of the broken and desperate as they march towards the front with nothing to lose. It was the latest attempt at overthrowing Snowpiercer, assuming many bloody casualties would occur.

Minister Mason (played devilishly by Tilda Swinton) doled out the discipline to those who broke the rules. The viewer experiences the same sense of wonder, horror, anger, and resentment that builds as Curtis enters a new train car.

The climax occurs when Curtis is at the door of the final car that holds the engine. There he reveals to Namgoong Minsoo (Song Kang-ho), a man who is helping him to unlock each door, the horrors that occurred in the back of the train during the first few years on Snowpiercer.

Snowpiercer Premieres May 17, at 9/8c on TNT. Pic credit: TNT

Snowpiercer on TNT

Snowpiercer, the television series, is a slight reboot or prequel, though it’s not entirely clear since we don’t know the end of this story. It takes place 10 years before the film.

The players are different, but characters act as proxies in slightly different situations that allow for growth throughout serialized episodes.

For example, Andre Layton (Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs), a former homicide detective, is ready to start the revolution. Before he can light the fuse, he is recruited by the front of the train to investigate a murder.

This moment is Layton’s first time away from the tail, expected to play nice with those who repulse him.

The situation is more complicated when his ex-wife Zarah (Sheila Vand), who escaped the back of the train, knew the murder victim.

Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly) is the voice and head of the train; no Mr. Wilford in sight. And while Melanie handles all matters on Snowpiercer, she leaves the discipline to Ruth Wardle (The Americans’ Alison Wright).

When neither lady wants to get their hands dirty, the brakemen do, led by Sam (Mike O’Malley), John (Sam Otto), and Bess Till (Mickey Sumner), who is paired up with Layton on the murder investigation.

But have no fears, this is not a procedural show. Instead, it is a look at humanity as it weathers the storm and handles quarantine on a moving train.

No one is practicing social distancing here, but there is also no social mixing between those who paid for a ticket and those perceived freeloaders in the back — a class war on wheels.

It’s very familiar but foreign, and yet, whatever precautionary tales we derive from Snowpiercer, we are sure to ignore by the time the next global crisis occurs.

In the film, most of the passengers are one-note characters or fodder for the brutal action sequences — and that’s perfectly acceptable and man, does it work.

In this series, we meet a massive ensemble, and each member will play a role down the line, like the Folger family (Vincent Gale, Kerry O’Malley, and Annalise Basso), members of the high society.

There are the workers in sanitation, the prison, agriculture (Susan Park), and the other engineers (Iddo Goldberg and Robert Urbina) working beside Melanie.

There’s a night club and a sort of red-light district where crimes can occur, and the drug of choice on the train, kronole, rears its head.

There’s a greater sense of the community, the “ecosystem” Mr. Wilford strived to create but requires balance to survive.

Because what’s more interesting than wondering whether or not a revolution can happen on this train, is how the people live on this train, day after day? How did people live like this for seven years?

We see what Melanie has to do in the face of the elite, while also holding in the secrets that she and the other engineers know. How can Ruth appease the first-class passengers with their hospitality needs one minute and terrorize the tail of the train the next, and how will that affect her?

And let’s not forget about the tail end of the train. The horrors revealed in the film happen in the series. We are sure to get a greater reflection of that throughout the 20 episodes.

We will see what happens as the younger passengers like Miles (Jaylin Fletcher) grow up or what stresses could occur should someone else get pregnant with limited medical supplies and food.

The series has an excellent pedigree, originally slated to be headed by Josh Friedman (The Sarah Conner Chronicles). However, after creative differences, Orphan Black’s co-creator Graeme Manson took over as the showrunner.

The cast is talented, and so is the roster of directors and writers.

Yes, the pacing is slower, but in a story that is this robust, Snowpiercer proves to work as both a film and a serial drama.

Let’s not forget that this started as three graphic novels produced in the early ’80s that sat for decades until Bong-Joon Ho boiled down some of the starkest elements into a relentless, one-way film.

It can also be savored over an extended period, whether this serves as a precursor to the film or not.

This world can be explored so much more now, and in fact, there are three more prequel graphic novels in the works that focus on the time before and after the ecological event occurred.

TNT hasn’t attempted an expensive, post-apocalyptic ensemble series since Falling Skies, but they chose the right one to get back in the saddle.

Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cobra Kai, or even Fargo, Snowpiercer similarly goes where the film or comics could not and tell an equally good story.

Now, who’s ready to board this train?

Snowpiercer airs on Sundays at 9/8c on TNT.

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James Wray
James Wray
4 years ago

I’ll need to check it out, the movie was pretty good. Though not sure I bought into the logic of it all.