The world has been forever broken after an apocalyptic event: cities uprooted and placed on wheels to traverse what remains while trying to be the dominant force and survive. Hugo Weaving is a villain (again) bent on conquering whatever gets in his way and Peter Jackson is yet again attached to a visually impressive and lengthy film. Throw in a few references to a certain classic sci-fi film saga and you have Mortal Engines.
The film, which is based on the Phillip Reeve novel from 2001 of the same name, doesn’t pull any punches in its first act. Some novel adaptations give the audience a chance to wade into the story while slowly giving them key bits of information that will come in handy later on. Mortal Engines decides that either you’ve read the novel and know all the information already, or you don’t and you’re about to have a confusing half hour of character introductions and history that you won’t fully comprehend until you’re leaving the theater.
The story begins with a mysterious young woman named Hester Shaw aboard a small city that is being hunted by the massive city of London. The exciting chase ends as London captures the smaller city and takes aboard all of the citizens residing on it. As these new members of London are boarded onto the vessel, we are introduced to Thaddeus Valentine (Weaving) who seems to be the most important and intelligent man in London. We then are introduced to several characters, each providing increasingly important plot details about what led to the world crumbling and turning into this Mad Max -like state. After an assassination attempt by Shaw on Valentine goes horribly wrong, Shaw and a young history fanatic named Tom are ejected from the city and thrust into the wastelands left behind.
Everything that happens in this first section of the story, although it may be a lot to take in at the time, is explained throughout the rest of the film. On their journey to expose the growing issue that is London, Hester and Tom meet new allies, troubling old acquaintances, and important figures who possess knowledge of the past. There is so much more to this story, which made the slightly over two-hour run-time feel packed with excitement and information. This film adaptation of a young adult novel did something that most fail to do; make a Hollywood action movie feel like you’re reading a dense book. Whether this was a good thing or not is a different story entirely.
Hera Hilmar gives a strong and impressive performance as the lead in the film. Hugo Weaving yet again delivers as a suave villain that audiences will be rooting against from the moment the film starts but the breakout stars in the film are Robert Sheehan (if you haven’t seen the show Misfits, go watch it now) who played Tom and Jihae who played the badass Anna Fang. Of all the characters in the film, Jihae was infinitely entertaining and could’ve carried her own film.
Peter Jackson’s touch is distinct throughout, despite not sitting in the directors chair. Having produced and co-write the screenplay, the massive scale and eye-popping visuals that Jackson is known for are apparent from the very first scene to the final shot. Although it is primarily a special effects driven film (oftentimes rough around the edges), there were a surprising amount of practical sets that looked fantastic. The film was directed by Christian Rivers, someone who worked in the art department for several of Jackson’s films including The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. The combination of Jackson and Rivers in Mortal Engines showed off the pair’s attention to detail and love of epic landscapes.
The biggest aspect of the film that felt the most out of place was its excessive need to throw strange nods and winks at the audience. The story takes place in the distant future after the world and civilization have ended. The characters in the film find and collect relics from the past and use them to crack jokes about the past (our current time). There’s mentions of smartphones, junk food, and the internet that for the most part are glaringly obvious and juvenile.
Mortal Engines is for the most part exactly what it looks like from the marketing. It has crazy visuals, epic battle scenes, an impressively massive scale, and a mostly predictable story. While trying to get as much character and history information out as possible, the film struggles at times to find its focus. Regardless, the beautiful scenery and extended action sequences left little room for boredom and made for an entertaining ride.