Mortal Engines is set 1000 years in the future, after the Earth’s crust was shattered and much of civilisation lost in an horrific quantum war. To the east, the permanent city of Shan Guo prospers in passivity, and to the west, mechanised cities rumble across the wastelands, with predator cities like London devouring smaller, roving miner cities. Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), a troubled young woman with a disfiguring scar and a mysterious past, teams up with outcast and historian Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) and feisty resistance leader Anna Fang (Jihae Kim) to stop the villainous Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving). Mortal Engines is based on the novels by Phillip Reeve, and directed by Christian Rivers (King Kong, Lord of the Rings).
Mortal Engines sits firmly within a stereotypical YA dystopian romance format, with a relatively simple and unoriginal plot and several YA clichés. However, the scale and detail of the new world is impressive and thorough enough to get away with it. Perhaps the most complex and interesting character is Shrike (Stephen Lang), a Terminator-style reincarnated robo-man who escapes steam punk Azkaban to hunt down Ester for breaking a promise.
The detailed setting, seamless CGI and well-choreographed action shines the brightest, overshadowing any need for powerful acting. However, for a dystopian action/adventure film, Mortal Engines manages to stumble upon some heartfelt moments, and there are a couple of quick gags about 21st century life, too. Overall, the film is enjoyable, tense, and while the villain decidedly lacks explainable motivation, there is never a dull moment and the pace will keep audiences entertained.
They’ve taken a risk with a big-budget film from a relatively underground novel and this uncertainty is clear in the rounding off of the film, but I sense it’ll do well in both box office and merchandising, which could see a sequel rumbling towards us over the horizon. The spectacle reigns supreme and that’s all that’ll be needed for Mortal Engines to stick.
I rate this film 7/10.
Mortal Engines is out in Australian cinemas now. You can also listen to our interview with Director Christian Rivers here.