If you've paid any attention to critical reviews of movies this year, you've probably heard of Snowpiercer.
126. (663.) Snowpiercer (2013)
RottenTomatoes.com calls it 94% fresh. Metacritic.com gives it an aggregate 84. Reviewers from The New York Times to L.A. Times have fallen over themselves praising it. This story of a runaway train is about as good as sci-fi movies get, they say. Not so fast, says I.
Snowpiercer wants to be an allegory about the human condition, a primer on social philosophy and class structure, and that's what so many of these positive reviews reflect. It is nice to see an action movie strive to be something more than a turn-off-your-brain smash-em-up. However, they say the devil is in the details, and that's never more true than in a philosophical argument. The details of Snowpiercer can't withstand critical analysis.
In a nutshell, the movie is about an attempted coup as the oppressed members stuck at the back of a speeding train struggle to seize the engine at the front. I can't explain where the story goes off the rails without giving away significant plot details. Just let me say that even the characters in the movie have forgotten their own motivation for the events of the story by the time the film reaches its final act and the villain delivers his final twist. (He's the protagonist's father! Figuratively.) That's not an accident; by that point it's become necessary for the film to forgo any attempt at plausible science and character in order to deliver its centerpiece harangue: the deep philosophical message that inequality is bad.
The best thing I can say about the movie is that it was made by competent craftsmen. It looks good, is edited well, and the special effects are high quality. However, it was clearly written by an unskilled 14-year-old boy. Note to the director: if you want your audience to swallow your treatise on sociopolitical economics, you should serve them a tablespoon of sugar instead of a fist of ham.
I'm not going to say that I hated Snowpiercer. I'm just saying that it disappointed me. With a little more subtlety, it could have been a great movie. As it was, it passed that station by without stopping.