Based on a series of young adult novels by Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines as a film project has been in limbo since 2009 when Peter Jackson (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Lovely Bones) bought the rights to it. He brought some of the same people who made The Lord of the Rings films with him and set about adapting it.
While there certainly is an interesting plot here much of the execution has ham-handed. You could see the potential there, but some form of ineptitude always seem to crop up and muck things up. Funny to say about a film in which director Christian Rivers (one segment of Minutes Past Midnight) seems to have paid attention to even the smallest of details.
Details like the way it looks. This steampunk type world is a treat for your eyes with plenty of cool things to look at. Visuals are really engaging. Cinematography is great. The cities, things that fly and different colonies all look amazing.
Predictability will kill any film. No matter the genre and this one has that in spades. So much so that your mind ends up wandering only to be brought back by dialogue/acting that is so hokey you find yourself laughing at moments not meant to be funny. I won’t even get into the fact that several of the characters are rather boring so you feel no attachment to them and many of the subplots are just plain silly.
Two outcasts or young people living on the fringes come together when each needs a friend the most. They both live on a post-apocalyptic Earth many centuries in the future. It is a world in which humans viciously compete against one another for the scant resources that remain. Food and technology are in short supply, so whomever controls it wields plenty of power.
Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar – Anna Karenina – 2012, An Ordinary Man) sees her small community on wheels subsumed by the much larger London. You might think that this would be an unwelcomed result, but Hester sees it as an opportunity at revenge against the man she holds responsible for her mother’s (Caren Pistorius – The Light Between the Oceans) death. That man is the powerful Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving – The Lord of the Ring: The Return of the King, V for Vendetta). He is a man who rules London and yet still seeks more power. Besides this Hester also has to worry about Shrike (Stephen Lang – Avatar, Don’t Breathe), an undead cyborg, who is hunting her down.
Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan – Fortitude, Geostorm) lives in London and works at the museum, but is regarded as total low class by most. Only Valentine’s daughter Katherine (Leila George – first feature film) seems to value him. The two are thrown together, much to Hester’s chagrin, when it becomes apparent Thaddeus’s thirst for power is going to end up destroying them all.
In turn they are rescued by Anna Fang (Jihae – from television’s Mars), a woman with a bounty on her head. Anna, Hester and Tom along with Anna’s friends go up against Thaddeus and his nefarious new weapon.
Many references to previous sci fi films are here to be found. London ends up reminding me of Star Wars’ Death Star, the whole desert-like landscape and scavenging for food reminded me of Mad Max films and one character’s outfit and sunglasses harkened back to The Matrix. Plenty is borrowed. Even Minions make an appearance…it is actually funny. There are also plenty of references made to today’s political or cultural situations like Brexit (one character utters “We should have never gone into Europe.”), rural fear of domination by urban centres and nationalism.
Fun moments to be had that draw you in, but you just end up a little frustrated due to silliness.