It’ll probably still keep you entertained, but Mortal Engines is a bit of a narrative mess.
Synopsis: Thousands of years after civilization was destroyed by a cataclysmic event, humankind has adapted and a new way of living has evolved. Gigantic moving cities now roam the Earth, ruthlessly preying upon smaller traction towns. Tom Natsworthy—who hails from a Lower Tier of the great traction city of London—finds himself fighting for his own survival after he encounters the dangerous fugitive Hester Shaw. Two opposites, whose paths should never have crossed, forge an unlikely alliance that is destined to change the course of the future. (Universal Pictures)
Starring: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, and Hugo Weaving
Writer: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson
Director: Christian Rivers
Rating: PG (Canada)/PG-13 (United States)
Running Time: 128mins
Mortal Engines, produced by Peter Jackson and directed by Christian Rivers, explores Earth thousands of years into the future, where a dystopian world has kicked in. The lead character, Hester Shaw (Hilmar), is on a mission to stop “London” from destroying everything in its path. The film is every bit as insane as it sounds, but not necessarily in a good way. Although the visuals are definitely top-notch, there seems to be something missing from Mortal Engines that doesn’t quite bring it to the level of a great dystopian film.
The part that’s missing? Well, the biggest hole in the film is the characters. As others have mentioned about the film, there’s not much to these characters, and no reason to be invested in their story lines. The story merely offers basic introductions and some small bits of background on each of the characters, yet Rivers never gives the audience a reason to care about the characters. Rivers seems more interested in the world-building aspect of the film, but he forgets that world-building is mostly insignificant without strength behind the characters that inhabit that world. Although it doesn’t take the extra mile to build upon their characters, that doesn’t mean that the whole film is bad. There are still tons of positives about Mortal Engines.
The most commendable aspect of the film are its visuals. This goes back to Rivers’ world-building. It’s clear that he’s invested in this world, and in the story. The visuals are very well done, and its other technical aspects, such as editing and sound, are also some of the film’s strongest points. When it comes to style, Rivers definitely doesn’t disappoint. For the most part, the visuals are good enough that the audience will remain interested, even if the story and plot development will ultimately let them down.
As with the characters, Mortal Engines doesn’t necessarily offer the freshest, or most interesting story. You read the brief synopsis online, and it seems that there is no way a film about that would be uninteresting. Yet, throughout the film, Mortal Engines struggles with having something original to say. It’s full of overused clichés, and there’s nothing that sets it apart from other films of the same genre. The performances are serviceable, but are mostly held back by poor character development. All in all, the biggest weak point of Mortal Engines is in its writing. The screenplay by Walsh, Boyens and Jackson fails to bring out what could’ve been some very interesting characters.
The end result here is somewhat of a mixed bag. When it comes to the world-building aspect, the visuals, and the technical aspects, Mortal Engines definitely gets it right. When it comes to other things, it really falls flat. Your enjoyment of the film will hinge on how much you value those two things. Going into this film, the audience will likely not be expecting a masterpiece of any kind. Instead, the main requirement is that it be a fun time at the movies. Although it still managed to be entertained throughout most of the running time, the experience felt weighed down by its negative aspects. Mortal Engines had some of the key elements it needed to be great. Yet, when it comes down to it, it falls short in some key areas.