“Mortal Engines” stars Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, and Stephen Lang. Released on December 14, 2018, the film is about a Londoner who gets caught in a personal battle between an assassin and a powerful ruler.
The film features the directorial debut of Christian Rivers, who is a storyboard artist for films that were helmed by Peter Jackson. It is based on the 2001 novel of the same name by Phillip Reeve. Peter Jackson has been known for releasing some of his “epic” films around Christmas time, with “The Lord of the Rings” being the prime example, whether he’s involved as a director or a producer. This film, unsurprisingly, is no different. Serving as one of the producers, Peter Jackson is hoping that the film adaptation of Phillip Reeve’s steampunk novel will set up a new potential book-turned-movie franchise, with each new installment releasing every December or two. I enjoyed some of Jackson’s works, mostly the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” films, because of his unique vision on the visual-heavy fantasy genre, so I was expecting him to deliver the goods with “Mortal Engines”.
The story is set in a post-apocalyptic world where, after a cataclysmic conflict destroyed much of humanity, the remaining survivors rebuild their homes as giant city-mobiles and hunt one another for resources. Even after the apocalypse, the laws of nature still prevails. The film follows a fugitive assassin named Hester Shaw (Hilmar), who seeks revenge against the Head of the Guild of Historians, Thaddeus Valentine (Weaving), for the murder of her mother. With the help of a teenage apprentice historian (Sheehan) and a resistance group known as the Anti-Traction League, Hester will have to survive every obstacle imaginable in order to complete her mission, especially the ginormous city of London. I mean, seriously, that thing is big enough to squash Mt. Rushmore. Peter Jackson is one of those filmmakers who like to make almost every set piece epic, but never lost focus in trying to tell a decent story. Despite the fact that he’s not directing the film (that role belongs to his long-time collaborator Christian Rivers), you can clearly see that the world of “Mortal Engines” has his name written all over it and, to be honest, it’s something that I wouldn’t mind revisiting again in the near future. From its brilliant use of visual effects to its steampunk-like production design, the post-apocalyptic wasteland that was created for the film is stunning and immersive enough to be viewed on the biggest screen possible. It’s not as grand as Middle-Earth, but as its own, it’s pretty impressive in terms of the scope. As for the actual film itself, it didn’t have enough resources to provide an emotionally-driven experience. However, that doesn’t mean it deserves to get swallowed up by a giant city on wheels. Sure, the plot had a few familiar tropes here and there and the narrative can be a bit inconsistent in terms of displaying emotional depth, but it had plenty of interesting and entertaining moments to keep me invested in the film’s world-building and Hester’s quest, such as its political and social topics. Hera Hilmar delivered a solid performance as Hester Shaw, also known as the only character that I was interested in the most. This character has been through a lot during her quest to avenge her mother’s death, and some of her problems that were displayed in the film were surprisingly effective. Robert Sheehan also did well as Tom Natsworthy, even though his character development wasn’t as investing as Shaw, and Hugo Weaving did his part in making his villainous character both suitable and intimidating. I also found the action sequences to be pretty enjoyable mostly due to its visual effects. There were a couple of them that I thought could’ve been better without the shaky cam, but the rest of them gets a pass from me.
Overall, the story in “Mortal Engines” wasn’t able to escape the clutches of the mobile predator cities, but it works well as pure escapism. It doesn’t compete with the likes of Peter Jackson’s Middle-Earth franchise. However, it still retains the visual scope and world-building that he’s known for. This is a mildly enjoyable revenge tale that offers plenty of eye candy and a decent, yet flawed, story. If you’re looking for some escapism during the holiday season, this film might fit your needs.