Mortal Engines English Movie Review

Feature Film | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Mortal Engines is a complicated machine of a film, not unlike the massive cities on wheels it puts on screen beautifully.
Dec 7, 2018 By Piyush Chopra

Peter Jackson may be just a producer and writer on it but Mortal Engines has his stamp through and through. Long and meandering journeys through seemingly vacant lands, a protagonist (this time female) with a personal mission, massive mythology, a large cast full of characters from different backdrops, etc. Thankfully, Mortal Engines turns out to be more like the Lord of the Rings trilogy in terms of merits than the Hobbit trilogy.

In a great reference to urbanization, giant moving cities chase down smaller cities and then devour them (all quite literally). In a nod to the various refugee crises, the unsettled from the destroyed cities are accepted into the big ones but not without their share of disdain and mistrust. The promise of a brighter future and luxuries is made but are they ever fulfilled? Not if you believe director Christian Rivers and writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson.

Instead, greed is the dominant force of human nature. Murder is no object compared to great riches and greater power. How would you tell the difference between the oppressed and the oppressor if the oppressors don't oppress the oppressed? Such motivations are what set in motion the plot of Mortal Engines. Our protagonist, the fiesty Hester Shaw, thirsts for vengeance against Thaddeus Valentine, who killed her mother over his own greed. He is now a great officer in the moving city of London. She is a rebel, an outcast. Both worlds collide to provide some spectacular action.

For a film with a great expansive universe, Mortal Engines is somehow simultaneously overwritten and underwritten. I like how the film explores the different divided segments of the new world organically (in very LOTR fashion) and the concept of cities on wheels allows for such freshness and uniqueness in the action department, right from the above-mentioned chase to shootouts to explosions. Rivers and his cinematographer Simon Raby are clearly inspired by Mad Max: Fury Road when it comes to the post-industrial wasteland look of the film but they manage to make it look and feel distinct enough to not come off as a pale imitation.

On the downside, for all its world building visually, the plot itself is a bit oft-seen and pedestrian. The motivations of both the protagonist and the antagonist are hardly surprising and the breakneck editing makes the writing look worse as it leaves no downtime for character exploration beyond the simplistic.

The performances are uniformly decent, including Hugo Weaving as Valentine, who chews the scenery and spits it out with the composure of a ballet dancer. Hera Hilmar makes a positive impression too, vulnerability and resolve on her face at the same time.

Mortal Engines is a complicated machine of a film, not unlike the massive cities on wheels it puts on screen beautifully. The loco action on locomotives is a solid enough win to overshadow some of the weaker writing of the film, and as long as the going is fun, why not go for the film in theaters and have some fun?

Piyush Chopra