Starring: Hera Hilmar, Hugo Weaving, Robert Sheehan
Directed By: Christian Rivers
Running Time: 128 Minutes
UK Release Date: 8 December 2018
BBFC Certificate: 12A
Book to film adaptations are hardly a new thing but since the commercial success of the Harry Potter movies (2001-2011), many studios have been buying the rights to popular fantasy young adult books in the hopes of creating their own successful franchises. But for every Hunger Games series (2012-2015) we get a misfired first entry such as The Golden Compass (2007), and unfortunately Mortal Engines is another muddled missed opportunity.
The film takes place around 1,000 years in the future where, following a global cataclysmic event called The Sixty Minute War, the planet’s surface has changed and the human race now live in giant mechanical towns and cities that roam the earth.
Hester Shaw (Hilmar) makes her way to London (now a giant city on tank tracks) to seek revenge on Thaddeus Valentine (Weaving), but this doesn’t go to plan and she escapes the city. She reluctantly teams up with exiled London resident Tom Natsworthy (Sheehan), where they journey back to London through a convoluted plot involving things such as a terminator like cyborg and a kick ass criminal / freedom fighter with a bounty on her head, who mostly wears sunglasses. As expected lots of events and set pieces unfold and they eventually have to save an Asian city from the destructive force of London.
The main criticism I have of this film is that it left me wanting more: not for a sequel, but more expositional conversations about this world and its people. Instead it feels like a lot of dialogue heavy scenes were cut in favour of special effect shots to trim its running time down to just over 2 hours, and even at this length the film seems long.
I’d like to know why Valentine wishes to venture halfway round the world in order to attack a ‘shield wall’ in Tibet and whether there is or was a war between them. I’d like to know when and why humans started dwelling in these cities, how old London is, and many other details.
On a positive this film looks stunning and I advise that if you wish to watch this film then to view it in 2D on a big screen. The production designers deserve a lot of credit for the sets, costumes and landscapes – ranging from the mammoth London to the smaller town-sized vehicles that interlock. Overall the visuals are truly great and it’s a rich, detailed and believable world. But unlike some films where the visuals do most of the storytelling, this film needed a lot more backstory in order to set up the importance of the events depicted.
As this film is produced by Peter Jackson, there will be comparisons to both The Lord of the Rings (2001 – 2003) and Hobbit (2012 – 2014) trilogies, as they are all based on bestselling fantasy series. But whereas Lord of the Rings spent time developing and differentiating the central characters, the Hobbit films didn’t and many characters were simply just ‘there’, didn’t add anything to the story and, as such, were forgettable.
Mortal Engines suffers in the same way as the Hobbit films due to many underdeveloped characters who are also just ‘there’ without any memorable scenes or traits, and for me the only character who got a sense of an arc is the cyborg Shrike (Stephen Lang). I would have liked Shaw to have grown as an integral character instead of being on a one-note quest for vengeance. Natswroth doesn’t appear to do much other than get in the way, which is a shame as Sheehan is a great comic actor and I advise you to see him shine in the first two series of Misfits (2009 – 2013). Hugo Weaving is great in everything I’ve seen him in, but he lacks the sense of malice that a central villain should have.
The film crumbles in the last act as plot threads are forgotten, there is an obvious twist and it descends into cheesiness, and I didn’t really care about the films grand finale. This is a shame as the film’s opening is strong as we see London chase down and devour a small mining town, and it is a truly exhilarating sequence.
Unlike a lot of ‘franchise springboards’, Mortal Engines doesn’t plant teasers for a sequel and just sort of ended. I love dystopian sci-fi but this film ultimately fell flat, which is a shame as this world has a lot of potential, and I feel that this film will fail at the box office and be another forgettable attempt at starting a franchise.
Overall Verdict: Mortal Engines unfortunately misses the mark which is a shame as the concept of this world is rich for exploration. Visually it’s stunning, but it lacks a lot of overall character and plot development.
Reviewer: George Elcombe