From the trailer, Last Train to Christmas presents itself like a(nother) modern-day take on the cultural touchstone of A Christmas Carol. Those who are bored of rehashing the same story again and again will be pleasantly surprised to learn that Last Train to Christmas is nothing like A Christmas Carol.
Unfortunately, the story that it turns out to be isn't much to write home about. Last Train to Christmas follows celebrity nightclub owner and self-proclaimed musician Tony Towers (Michael Sheen) who is heading home for Christmas with his young fiancée Sue (Nathalie Emmanuel), meeting his brother Roger (Cary Elwes) on the way.
However, things get a little strange as he moves through the carriages and revisits past points in his life, with the power to change the outcome of his future. Ignoring the timey-wimeyness of it all, which is a necessity with any film that deals with changing the future, Last Train to Christmas never quite establishes the point, for Tony, of the 'time travel'.
At least in A Christmas Carol, the moral outcome was that Scrooge changed for the better, the visions making him see that he could move forward in the world as a good person. Last Train to Christmas doesn't really care about Tony as a person, his future or his past.
In fact, the true main character of the film is Roger — it's his trauma, his past, and his future that slowly eclipse Tony's own. As Tony moves through the carriages, he and Roger engage in a series of face-offs that play out like Christmas pantomimes rather than earnest character-defining stuff.
While both Elwes and Sheen are joyous to watch, the conflicts become rote, especially once you realise where the plot is going. It is almost a surprise, but what's more of a surprise is what the movie decides to do with its revelation (we're being vague on purpose to save you from spoilers).
Tony's decisions stem neither from outright selfishness nor from pure altruism. In this way he might be more 'realistic' but, unfortunately, it also makes him boring to watch.
Instead, Roger is totally untethered from the knowledge of the power of the train, and to watch him ping-pong from heady highs to desperate depths is more entertaining. However, even these moments are all there to serve a grander moral argument that feels just plain icky.
Even Sue, the supposed love of Tony's life, is barely in the film — and the past scenes of his life are littered with terrible relationships in which the person at fault is, well, Tony. Only Tony doesn't learn anything from revisiting (or experiencing for the first time?) these moments.
The rules of Tony's time travel seem to be that the events in each time period/carriage are predicated on each decision he made previously, forcing him subsequently further and further back into the past to right the first and weirdest "wrong".
And yet, he still gets off lightly. There is no punishment for his lack of growth or self-awareness. His sacrifice isn't much of a sacrifice, nor was it his to make. Even after it's made, we have no idea how it impacts the "real" (for want of a better word) Tony that we met in the first scene.
That Tony seems to have vanished entirely, replaced instead by some blank-slate Tony that we don't know and therefore don't care about. It leaves us only with weird feelings and the sense that Last Train To Christmas would have been a much better comedy short starring Sheen and Elwes than it was as a full-length soppy Christmas movie.
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