People had strong opinions about the film, all the way from the lowliest movie watcher to the highest big wig at Moho Studios.
The plot is simple but the spare storytelling energy is used to fearlessly delve into inhuman moral choices. The film takes place on an advanced, self-sustaining bullet train that holds the entire human population. Its perpetual motion engine is all that keeps them alive and warm. At the head of the train are the oppressors. At the heel of the train are the oppressed. The oppressed folk rebel against the brutal upper class (And they are brutal) in an attempt to gain control of the train.
Curtis (Chris Evans) is selected to be the reluctant leader of the rebellion and definitely appears to be the right man for the job. He makes carefully considered decisions as well as split-second ones that give the rebellion the best chance for success. Some of those decisions come at high prices and the weight of each is ever evident on Evans' face.
The rebels move from car to car, inching toward the engine, in one impressive piece of set design after another. Even if a car is only shown for a few seconds, it tells a full story without the need for dialogue or additional information. Director Bong Joon-Ho knows precisely what to show and what to leave out. The characters are shown progressing through their individual stories in each car. They're not all given equal screen time, but Joon-Ho never leaves us confused about anyone's motives or priorities.
The action scenes are utilized to stress the audience with worry as the brutal events unfold. The carnage is not fun. There isn't much reason to cheer after rebel victories because their numbers continue to dwindle with each engagement against a never-ending security force.
The movie has a few enthralling moments that show the refined brainwashing of the front passengers. After a particularly bloody battle as dozens of security officers lay dead and dying, the PA system announces that it is nearly the new year. Everyone stops fighting and starts counting down from ten. As the timer reaches zero the security officers shout "happy new year!" even those who lay bleeding to death with their guts spilled on the floor.
I didn't know it until the movie ended, but Tilda Swinton was in it. She gave one of the best and most unrecognizable performances of her career as a torturous mouthpiece for the elite class. I thought I recognized her voice, but I wasn't sure until I looked it up. She chews up every scene she's in, even overshadowing strong lead performances by Chris Evans and Song Kang Ho. In a way, she has taken the place of actors like Kevin Spacey and Guy Pearce as A-list chameleon character actors.
The film is a philosophical feast. Even with a narrow plot that fits perfectly with the style of movie, it makes the audience ask a lot of questions about morality, responsibility, monstrosity and necessity. Every character blurs the lines between good and evil and somehow leaves you with simultaneous feelings of dread and hope. It's not only a must see for sci-fi fans, this movie has enough content to keep all audiences interested.