After Earth is turned into a frozen wasteland, what remains of humanity is trapped on a high speed train circling the planet. The front of the train is a place of luxury, occupied by the super rich while the end of the train is occupied by the “tailenders” who live in absolute squalor and desperation.
When a child is taken for apparently nefarious purposes, Curtis (Chris Evans) steps up his plans for revolution and to reach and take the front of the train. He’ll need to free security expert, Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-Ho Song) and battle his way through multiple carriages to do so, along the way questioning everything he has ever known to be true.
The train is very obviously a metaphor for modern capitalism, with mysterious engineer Wilford (Ed Harris) representing the 1%, his enforcer, Mason (Tilda Swinton) representing the deluded social climbing middle class and the tailenders the exploited developing world.
If you watch the film purely from a symbolic angle, it’s fairly decent. It has enough twists and horrors to keep it interesting and it’s beautifully made. I mean it is neither a subtle or a nuanced metaphor, but it works.
If you think about the actual plot too much it quickly turns into a bit of Swiss cheese. CAUTION A BIT SPOILERY: Wilford’s whole closed ecosystem didn’t actually make an enormous amount of sense. What was the purpose of the tailenders? It’s not like they were working for the front carriagers. What was up with the symbolic fish gutting? Are we genuinely supposed to believe Namgoong’s daughter is going to start a new independent life in the wastelands with just some third hand information from an Inuit woman? What did Gwilliam (Ian Hurt) actually get from his deal? Why did Mason take out her teeth?
Anyway, I quite enjoyed this, even though it was a bit bonkers. As always Octavia Spencer steals the show and Evans is not bad at all as Curtis. I feel like he chose this role because he needed a breather from playing Captain America. His whole speech about the origins of the tailenders. doesn’t quite land but he gives it a good go. Swinton is once again immersed into her character and manages to make Mason both repulsive and pitiful.
I think possibly some of it got lost in translation, which I have seen happen before with a Korean director doing English language cinema. I really like Korean films… but in Korean.