Mortal Engines (2018), directed by newcomer Christian Rivers, is based on a young adult novel of the same name by British author Philip Reeve. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that was destroyed by a “60-minute war” some thousand years ago. Those that survived created steampunk like mobile cities that go around devouring towns and minor cities for their resources, with the citizens being integrated into the dominating city.
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The most exciting part of the story is the beginning before the title even appears when the roving city of London devours a mining town. It is filled with beautifully interesting CGI with high action chase scenes until the mining town is engulfed by London. After that point, all the action scenes seem overdone with CGI and predictable fight sequences.
The main characters, Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) and Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) could be exciting if they were allowed to develop some depth. Hester is depicted as a revenge crazy loner who eventually learns the power of friendship. Tom is a budding historian who wants to be an aviator and who is completely lost at what to do when he is pushed off his traveling home of London.
These heroes have a lot to contend with. There is the power-hungry Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving) who throws them both off London and who has a plan to build a weapon to destroy the wall that protects Asia from cities like London. There are the cannibalistic southerners who try to sell them at auction as meat. And then there is Shrike (Stephen Lang), an undead cyborg, who raised Hester and is now trying to kill her for breaking a promise.
The story is not only predictable, but it is also highly derivative. From the budding love story between the two heroes to Hester having the only solution to save the day, it feels like they took all the tropes from good action adventure stories and made into one high adventure, overpacked, steampunk, post-apocalyptic narrative. The story is a combination of Star Wars, Mad Max, and The Terminator. After all, London is a “Death Star” destroying other settlements in a dystopian resource depleted landscape. There is even a rebel alliance, called the Anti-Traction League, that saves Tom and Hester from being auctioned to cannibals. The rebel who is most prominent is Anna Fang (Jihae) who looks like a character straight from The Matrix. The league needs Hester, an orphan with daddy issues, as she is “their only hope.” But she is too busy running away from the killer cyborg.
This film could have been great if they focused more on the main plot and less on the subplots. Shrike was more of an annoyance to the story than an exciting subplot and obstacle. He almost needs a film of his own. The southerners are superfluous to the story as they only there to add another obstacle that has nothing to do with the main plot. Supporting characters like Katherine Valentine (Leila George) and Bevis Pod (Ronan Raftery) almost get forgotten in parts, so that they can fit in Shrike and the southerners, even though they are essential to the main plotline.
If you love CGI and impressive world building and don’t mind stories that don’t have much depth, then this is a great film to watch. Otherwise, you might as well save your money and go see the next Star Wars installment.