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Mortal Engines – Movie Review

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Mortal Engines – Movie Review

Rating: C- (Below Average)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures

It’s always good to see studios still investing in big, ambitious fantasy epics. With Peter Jackson producing and his frequent visual effects supervisor Christian Rivers directing, Mortal Engines certainly has pedigree involved. Despite the imagination that comes from seeing these cities stomping across a post-apocalyptic wasteland, the film ends up being rather bloated and plodding as it attempts to focus on a million subplots and characters. Unfortunately, a lot of them aren’t particularly engaging and the final result becomes an exhausting experience that doesn’t seem like it will end. This is a movie that uses its most oddball ideas at the beginning and then takes itself far too seriously for the remainder of the story.

Rivers’s background in visual effects is evident from the opening and a lot of thought has been put into the designs and world building. The money is definitely up there with some tremendous special effects and the production design is impressive, too. There is certainly a lot of imagination with how these cities are constructed, as impractical as all of this is and as nonsensical as Hugo Weaving’s evil plot is. Looking at the craft and creativity of the set-pieces is the main thing holding one’s interest throughout Mortal Engines. It’s difficult not to think of Mad Max while watching the film, but the filmmakers and the book’s author Philip Reeve do come up with plenty of new ideas. The most bizarre is the use of a Universal-owned IP for a throwaway joke.

Where Mortal Engines falters is in properly developing the characters to make one care about them. There is some decent characterization in the beginning as we follow museum curator Tom and the vengeful rebel Hester. Weaving also brings his charm to the villain and it’s understandable why the people living in London revere him. However, they otherwise lack much in the way of personality and it doesn’t help when more and more characters are added. Weaving’s daughter appears for occasional chunks to the point one forgets she is even in the movie until she shows up. There is also an attempt to build a back story and arc between Hester and a robotic man, who is like if the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz did not take his lack of heart particularly well.

By the time Mortal Engines reaches its overlong third act, there are so many characters we are required to follow and none of them are interesting. Even Weaving starts to become a dull figure with an evil plan that makes little sense. Something definitely feels lost in translation during the adaptation process of putting the book on the screen. The final forty-ish minutes consist of a lengthy action climax that goes on for an unforgivable amount of time. Again, the special effects are tremendous, but there is little else propping up the action. With nobody to invest in, the ending just feels like a slog.

Mortal Engines can certainly be called audacious and there is something admirable about that. However, it wants to cram so much into the two hour runtime as it also attempts to wow us with its large cities and flying ships. Rivers, Jackson and the rest of the team want to bring the same scope and size that made The Lord of the Rings so endearing. However, while the Middle Earth films gave us distinct and interesting characters to follow on their epic journey, Mortal Engines merely has the standard, good looking young adults and doesn’t flesh them out beyond that. The spectacle is up on the screen, but one tires of it rather quickly.

Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison