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Review Roundup: Enthusiastic First Critics' Reactions to Bong Joon-Ho's Sci-Fi Epic 'Snowpiercer' UPDATED

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood July 22, 2013 at 11:53AM

The first reviews have landed for Bong Joon-ho's dystopian sci-fi entry "Snowpiercer," starring a sprawling cast headed by Tilda Swinton, Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Jamie Bell and Octavia Spencer. Variety calls the film "visually stunning and richly satisfying," while Twitch writes that the film's stars "delight and horrify [the viewer] in surprising ways." More below.
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Chris Evans in "Snowpiercer"
Chris Evans in "Snowpiercer"

The first reviews have landed for Bong Joon-ho's dystopian sci-fi entry "Snowpiercer," starring a sprawling cast headed by Tilda Swinton, Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Jamie Bell and Octavia Spencer. Variety calls the film "visually stunning and richly satisfying," while Twitch writes that the film's stars "delight and horrify [the viewer] in surprising ways." More below.

We'll add reviews as they continue to roll in. The film -- which is set in a futuristic Ice Age where Earth's survivors are imprisoned on a train going nowhere, with passengers segregated by class in different cars -- is currently without a stateside release date. Check out the trailer here.

Variety:

Two decades into a second Ice Age, a few thousand human survivors live out their days aboard a state-of-the-art luxury train in “Snowpiercer,” an enormously ambitious, visually stunning and richly satisfying futuristic epic from the gifted Korean genre director Bong Joon-ho (“The Host,” “Memories of Murder”). A rare high-end sci-fi/fantasy pic made completely outside the studio system, and that even rarer case of an acclaimed foreign helmer working in English with no appreciable loss of his distinctive visual and storytelling style, Bong’s adaptation of French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige” reps a pricey investment ($40 million) for majority producer CJ Entertainment, but seems a downright bargain compared with the cost of forging such pics on Hollywood turf.

Twitch:

Bong has assembled an eclectic cast and each of his actors is well matched to their characters, yet many go beyond the traditional confines of their roles, delighting and horrifying us in surprising ways. Chris Evans, in between Captain America roles, plays the reluctant working class hero to a tee, and shines in the film's back half, when the script gifts him some unexpectedly weighty moments.

Under her false teeth, wig and pasty makeup, Tilda Swinton is uproarious as the train's unhinged prime minister. Measured and full of delightful ticks, her memorable Yorkshire madam steals every scene she's in.

The Hollywood Reporter:

All the world’s a train, and all the men and women are merely passengers -- a twist on one of William Shakespeare’s most oft-recited lines could serve well as a summation of director Bong Joon-ho’s latest film. An adaptation of the cult French comic book series Le Transperceneige, Snowpiercer is an epic yet nuanced, contemplative yet entertaining vehicle that uses its titular locomotive as an allegory for human existence as we see it in the here and now.

Boasting a stellar cast that will certainly help open doors to the international market -- with the presence of Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer and Alison Pill to whip up the interest of U.S. filmgoers, and Tilda Swinton and John Hurt to cement the film’s art house credentials -- Snowpiercer sees Bong maintaining his own artistic grip on the proceedings.

Screen:

Audiences accustomed to Bong’s work may find it darker than usual, but this is natural given the nature of the narrative as it focuses on the inner workings of social class, but much like his previous films, it never ceases to be enjoyable. Bong’s masterstroke at delivering both depth and suspense, as evident in his films such as Memories Or Murder (2003) and Mother (2009), is used to scintillating effect through a well written narrative that exploits the limited space on a train that provides the perfect location for Bong’s sci-fi adventure.

Bong has also assembled the perfect cast with talent spreading across three continents reflecting the global nature of the film and its narrative. Chris Evans is difficult to fault as the young leader, while John Hurt is perfectly cast as the older mentor and spiritual leader. Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ewen Bremner and Ed Harris, likewise, both deliver their best in the confinements of the train, but it’s Tilda Swinton as the second in command of the train with her thick but attractive Yorkshire accent who manages to rise above this stellar cast through her energetic and eccentric performance.

This article is related to: Reviews, Reviews, Joon-ho Bong, Snowpiercer


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.