Mortal Engines is directed by Christian Rivers, and is based on Philip Reeve’s 2001 novel of the same name. The film stars Hugo Weaving, Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, and Stephen Lang.
In the distant future, following the ravaging of the world in a destructive war, giant cities are made mobile on wheels, and travel the world for the resources they need for their citizens to survive. Hester Shaw, out to avenge her mother’s murder, reluctantly teams up with Tom Natsworthy, a low-level Londoner historian, when they discover the secret destructive plans of London’s publicly-respected scientist and historian Thaddeus Valentine. Contending with other threats and making new allies, Hester and Tom attempt to stop Valentine’s deadly plans from coming to fruition.
Mortal Engines is a great looking film and has a fun performance from the always entertaining Hugo Weaving… but absolutely nothing else about the movie works. Throw every cliche in the filmmaking book into a single movie, and this is basically what you’d end up with. Characters are one-dimensional, dialogue is terrible, there are far too many people to keep track of, and countless subplots, coupled with contrivances and plot conveniences. There are the obligatory CGI effects, explosions, and big battle at the end… but there’s basically no reason to see this movie.
I will give the movie credit for creating a picturesque and unique setting and atmosphere, at least in terms of the visuals. Roving cities, floating complexes, slave auctions, sprawling canyons; the film at least succeeds in looking good. One also has to give credit to Hugo Weaving, always an entertaining actor on film, for handling the material here with a straight face.
And then there’s everything else.
Mortal Engines is one of the most derivative and unoriginal films of, well, ever. Throw Mad Max, Battlefield Earth, The Hunger Games, Frankenstein, and even The Crimson Permanent Assurance into a blender, and this abomination is what you’d end up with! Everything you’ll see in this movie, you’ve already seen, done better, in another movie. It’s not uncommon for movies to rip off Star Wars, but this one rips of the original 1977 film, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi in a small five-minute window – including Empire’s classic “big reveal!” The big battle at the end of the movie features plenty of expensive CGI and explosions, but when characters die and sacrifice themselves we simply don’t care, because the development and direction (or lack thereof) simply don’t give us a reason to care.
The film makes the critical error of simply having too many characters and too much going on. None of these characters are the least bit interesting or compelling. I eventually gave up on keeping track of the characters and the subplots because, again, there simply was no reason to care. There’s an awkward romance with terrible dialogue. There’s a weird father/daughter relationship between a girl and a skeleton-like creature which could have been excised from the film altogether with no loss of depth (what little this movie has, anyway). Attempts at humor feel awkward and out of place (wait til you see what kind of “American deities” are on display in London’s museum). And there are way too many flashbacks, because apparently, everyone in the film has to have some kind of past connection and/or be related somehow. Seriously?
Even the big finale feels rushed. There are conveniences and contrivances which contribute to the final predictable outcome, yet it all feels like smoke and mirrors, and nothing we haven’t seen before. In one scene, to drag out the suspense, a character has to enter a “disarm” code into a computer to stop a weapon. The character has 45 seconds to enter six numbers… yet takes until literally the last second. How long does it take to type in six numbers, on a keypad that ONLY has numbers on it?
It’s no secret I hated this movie. Big CGI effects, explosions, and self-sacrifice don’t matter when I’m not made to care about any of the film’s far-too-numerous characters and overflow of subplots. A cringe-worthy cinematic experience which easily ranks amongst the year’s worst movies. Don’t go.
Rating: One star out of four.
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