In a film about moving mechanical cities, world domination, betrayal, love, promises and everything in between, Mortal Engines is decidedly ambitious movie that tries to do a lot, but does not switch gears quickly enough.
Based on Philip Reeve’s young adult novel of the same name from 2001, the premise is set against a dystopian future after a disastrous war that has left mankind of the brink of extinction. The once lush planet has become a barren wasteland, populated by giant mobile “predator cities” that have arose from the ashes of civil society and have survived by attacking and consuming smaller cities in order to get more fuel and resource to power their mobile city.
The movie opens with a fairly impressive chase scene, with the monstrously huge city of London chasing after the smaller mining town of Salthook. The opening scene is mildly reminiscent of Mad Max with its steampunk-esque vehicular chases, but any similarities end there as Salthook ends up getting literally swallowed up by London. The character designs and behaviour are also more Chitty Chitty Bang Bang than Fury Road.
Making his directorial debut, Christian Rivers, the long time mentee of Peter Jackson (Director of Lord Of The Rings) tries hard to emulate his mentor. With a long history of being a storyboard artist and visual effects supervisor, it is little wonder why the movie looks as stunning as it does, with gorgeous shots of the town of London and the Eastern city of Shan Guo. However, what Rivers has yet to properly learn from Jackson is the art of character building and movie pacing as Mortal Engines, despite opening with a bang, is soon bogged down with way too many plot points, and a sea of forgettable characters.
When Hesta Shaw’s (Hela Hilmar) attempt at assassinating the villainous historian Thaddeus Valentines (Hugo Weaving) is thwarted by the bumbling good guy Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), both of them end up being thrown out of London by way of a rubbish chute and the rest of the film follows Hesta and Tom on their journey to try to get back to the evermoving city of London.
Along the way they conveniently meet the enigmatic anti-tractionist Anna Fang (Jihae) and her band of rebellions, who have been looking for Hesta since she was 8 years old. There’s also an old robot hunting Hesta and basically, we’re left watching a budget Hailee Steinfeld team up with a budget Eddie Redmayne, assisted by a budget Awkwafina while they are all being hunted by a budget Terminator.
There’s also an evil laser beam of doom, the devastation of an innocent nation-state, with the heroes swooping in at the last minute against a devastating contraption of power, trying to save the day. Budget Star Wars anyone?
Every beat of a typical action movie is met and that is just one of the many flaws of this film. The film’s biggest mistake is cramming way too much into its almost two hours run time, throwing the audience from one action scene to the next with barely any room for both the leads and the audience to catch their breaths. In lieu of all the explosions and chase sequences, the movie neglects one important aspect of any great movie – its characters.
Mortal Engines seem to be under the impression that the more character it throws at us, the better it’ll be. With new characters being introduced to us as a dizzying pace, there is little given to the audience to connect with the characters on screen. We’re then left questioning why should we care when the proverbial shit hits the fan, and said characters are thrusts into danger.
It also says something when the most well-developed character in the whole film is a robot. That’s right, Shrike, the off-brand Terminator robot and secondary antagonist of the film, has more personality than over half the cast. The quasi father-daughter bond between Shrike and Hesta is much more believable than the blossoming relationship between Hesta and Tom, which seems forced and rushed at best, downright unconvincing at worst.
Mortal Engines is also fond of spewing technobabble – the “infusion convertor cell” and “tractionists” to name a few in an attempt to add a bit more intelligence to the film, but only succeeds in adding unnecessary smoke to a film already bogged down with too much.
When all is said and done, Mortal Engines is by all intents and purposes a beautifully shot film with a lot of ambition but that’s about all that one can praise the movie for. If only it weren’t crammed to the brim with too many characters, plot points, and explosions, the movie ends up might not have ended up sputtering as bad as it did.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Mortal Engines while a visually stunning movie, forgoes character development for action and there are only so many explosions that we can take before we ask, why should we care?
Story - 6/10
Direction - 6/10
Characterisation - 5/10
Geek Satisfaction - 6/10