Review: Mortal Engines (2018)

mortalengines.jpgMortal Engines is a 2018 Fantasy Adventure film directed by Christian Rivers in his feature film debut and starring Hera Hilmer, Robert Sheehan, Jihae, Stephen Lang and Hugo Weaving. The story is based on the book by Philip Reeve and was co-written and co-produced by Peter Jackson.

In a post-apocalyptic world where cities ride on wheels and consume each other to survive, an orphan (Hilmer) and a historian (Sheehan) meet in London and try to stop a conspiracy orchestrated by the Head of the Guild of Historians (Weaving).

Mortal Engines is a lot of fun and it’s important to state that upfront because the film does not hold up under any form of scrutiny.

I’ve never seen anything like this before. This concept is so bananas yet the visual effects are so impressively good. The unimaginably huge mechanised cities are astonishing and the filmmakers do well to convey the sense of scale. The cities are luscious and feel lived in and when characters are on the ground, the cities become these terrifying monstrous juggernauts.

This adds a great deal of threat and peril to the action scenes, especially a great chase sequence in the first act.

Unfortunately, Hester Shaw isn’t a particularly engaging main character. Although visually striking, her emotionless persona (or perhaps performance by Hilmer) makes her a little boring and some of her plot development are unintentionally laughable.

Fortunately picking up the slack is Robert Sheehan who oozes charm and affability, whilst masterfully hiding his accent. His character Tom Natsworthy is the everyman on this adventure and his simple character arc is much needed in such a bombastic out-there film like this.

However, Hugo Weaving is the real MVP of Mortal Engines as central villain, Thaddeus Valentine. Infused with a Steampunk Red Skull vibe, Weaving brings so much stern menace to this role that I wished the other actors could convey his level of conviction. Few actors can accomplish such a degree of seething hatred that Weaving does so effortlessly.

Shrike is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the film whose character is riddled in plot spoilers so he’s hard to discuss. But he’s effectively a German zombie death robot. With glowing green eyes.

Very few of the supporting characters get any form of development or depth outside of their initial personality trait and most we learn almost nothing about. A fantastic example of this is Valentine’s daughter, Katherine and the apprentice engineer she befriends, who serve close to no purpose throughout the entire film.

Aside from the references to the weaponry of the past (our present), Mortal Engines also decides to make a comment about world politics. It’s no accident that London (with its monstrous Union Jack gates) acts as conquering imperial force absorbing (literally swallowing) foreign nations and stripping them of all useful cultural aspects (literally digesting). Whilst China acts as a safe haven (complete with its own Great Wall) where people of all nations can live in peace despite constant assault by foreign nations. This reflection of the real world doesn’t really affect the events of the film greatly but it’s still an interesting creative choice.

In a year notable for its dumb CGI spectacles, Mortal Engines might not be the dumbest but it’s definitely the most spectacular. With visual creativity off the charts, Mortal Engines is just about bizarre enough and loud enough to keep audiences distracted for a solid two hours. Add in a reliably convincing villainous performance by Weaving and you’ve got a recipe for a solid steampunk fantasy adventure.

Mortal Engines is in cinemas now!

Mortal Engines Cup Rating: 75%
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