Published on December 12th, 2018 | by Michael Newman0
Take a moment and imagine a world where most of humanity has been wiped off the map and those that remain are forced to survive on the remaining resources of a civilization that has been torn apart. In this new existence, leftover technology is coveted like diamonds and massive predator cities prey on weaker smaller cities to steal whatever meager resources they still possess. This is the world of Mortal Engines, the latest Peter Jackson blockbuster based on the young adult novel of the same name by Philip Reeves.
Mortal Engines takes place roughly a thousand years after the conclusion of the Sixty Minute War that decimated the earth and now civilization has banded into two very distinct groups. There are those in the “Traction Cities”, which are behemoth mobile cities that scour what remains of Europe gobbling up smaller cities to convert them and their resources into fuel that keeps the larger cities moving. Then there is the Anti-Traction League, a group that believes in preserving what little resources remain and living in “Traction-less” cities…a.k.a. cities built on land. London is the main Traction City and it is led by Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving) and his desire to tear down a great wall that is the only barrier between London and the surplus of resources that he so desperately needs.
After London devours one of the smaller cities, we are introduced to Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), whose one goal in life is to kill Thaddeus Valentine, the man who murdered her mother. After her failed assassination attempt on his life, she teams up with historian Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) to not only survive, but also to prevent Valentine’s plan to recreate the war that took down humanity in the first place. This is a big job for the unlikely duo and on top of everything else, Hester is being hunted by a zombie/terminator hybrid named Shrike who wants nothing more than to kill her.
If it sounds like a lot to follow over the course of the two hours and nine-minute run time, you’d be right. In fact, without a lot of backstory which those who have read the novels will really benefit from, it can be a bit too much to take in. It comes across as a combination of Mad Max and the video game Dishonored, but it is lacking an excellent story to back up all of the post-apocalyptic action. That’s not to say that the story is bad, but it is by far the weakest part of the film and a huge missed opportunity to elevate a pretty good movie to the classic Peter Jackson masterpiece status we usually get from him. Considering the genius of Mr. Jackson this movie could have been so much more.
But now on to the good stuff…
Visually speaking Mortal Engines is a true work of art. Taking the steampunk Victorian era backdrop and adding in large mobile cities crashing through trees and forests gives us visuals that are not only magnificent, but also awe inspiring. I was lucky enough to see Mortal Engines in IMAX and the larger screen only helped to emphasize how truly awesome these large rolling cities are. This is a movie that is meant to be seen on the big screen, and with Mortal Engines, the bigger the better. The sound design matches the visuals in its epic scale, as it is loud and menacing. You can actually feel the rumble of the large treads as they move across the earth, and the crunching of smaller cities as the massive cities devour all that crosses their path. The casting and the acting were another positive as the good characters were ones you wanted to root for and the bad characters you hope would get what’s coming to them. All in all, there is quite a bit to like in this film and if nothing else you are sure to have a good time taking in all of the scenery.
In summary, Mortal Engines is a movie that feels as though it had so much potential but couldn’t quite live up to it. It definitely feels more like a summer blockbuster, full of explosions and action, instead of the deeper holiday releases that we usually get around this time. It’s the kind of movie that you go to see for the sheer spectacle of it all as long as you are willing to overlook any plot or story depth. Unfortunately, this leaves the quandary of whether or not it’s worth the full price of admission (or even more if you are planning to see it in IMAX) and my answer to that is…it depends. If you have any interest in seeing it at all then Mortal Engines is definitely a movie you should see on the big screen. On the other hand, it might be worth it to just wait to see it on pay-per-view or Blu-ray even though it may lose a lot of what makes the movie so much fun in the first place. While the movie could have been better, I have definitely seen worse and if the idea of massive rolling cities and steampunk set pieces are your thing, then Mortal Engines is certainly worth a look.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Second Review by Christopher Daniels
Behind the camera, director Christian Rivers is backed by movie-making titan Peter Jackson. In front of it, Hugo Weaving (Valentine) supports newcomers Hera Hilmar (Shaw), and Robert Sheehan (Tom).
The movie starts by introducing us to a massive city merged with a moving vehicle: London. The city has crossed a land bridge, which was created in the millennia following humanity’s near destruction of the planet. London and other large cities prey on smaller cities to break down their vehicles and absorb their resources. Oddly enough, aside from the opening sequence, there is only one scene of a larger city chasing and consuming a smaller city.
The story begins to unfold as a mysterious woman attacks Valentine for unknown reasons; Valentine immediately starts to reveal his true colors and intentions.
Cutting to the quick: this movie is strongly reminiscent of the Star Wars series. The sheer number of similarities is impossible to ignore.
The script was written well enough, but the plot’s lack of creativity becomes distracting. It lessens the impact of the beautifully detailed machines, and the world surrounding them.
I like the message this film conveys, and the action is nearly non-stop throughout. However, Mortal Engines missed the mark for being a great movie. It is mediocre at best; worth seeing, but keep your expectations low. I’m confident you will be entertained, and your visual senses pleased.
2 out of 5 Stars
Edited by: Jeff Boehm