Despite setting up a fascinating world and featuring a fantastic cast, ‘Mortal Engines’ stumbles where it should soar. There’s fun, thrills and enjoyment to be had, but we can only hope subsequent chapters will do better at building on the potential of its premise.
There are flickers of brilliance in Mortal Engines that indicate just how much opportunity there is in its dystopian, anti-Imperialist premise. Based on the highly success YA quartet of books by Philip Reeve, the film introduces us to a world starved of its resources, where the surviving cities roam the planet on wheels, gobbling up villages, towns and communities as a way to steal their resources.
When a strange young woman named Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) arrives at the city of London hell-bent on revenge against leader Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), it ignites a revolutionary battle and unearths long-buried secrets.
Directed by Peter Jackson’s protégé Christian Rivers, Mortal Engines is undoubtedly visually spectacular. From its opening sequence introducing us to a dog eat dog world where cities eat up smaller communities like metal dinosaurs, it’s a genuinely thrilling world full of high-octane action and surprisingly effective side gags (look out for an unexpected visit from some Minions).
The first half of the film in particular is chocked full of these moments of fun, as Hester meets the wily but charming Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) and Valentine’s daughter Katherine (Leila George). With the Hunger Games, Maze Runner and Twilight franchises now having reached their natural ends, the first half of the film suggests ample reasons why Mortal Engines could be the next smash YA big screen franchise.
It’s helped along by the arrival of rebel leader Anna Fang, played by musician Jihae, who was impressive in Nat Geo’s docudrama series Mars but really comes into her own here as an action star to watch.
It’s a shame then that the second half of the film becomes bogged down in subplots and twists that feel unnecessary or overfamiliar. Hugo Weaving, so brilliant in the Matrix movies and the Lord of the Rings, feels wasted as a villain who lacks complexity, serving a goal that feels a little too simplistic.
There are also a few too many convenient solutions and a love story that feels shoehorned in amongst a world bristling with so much more interesting dramatic potential.
This weakens the effectiveness of the final conclusion, which fails to deliver on the early promise of its central idea.
It is still entertaining stuff, with likeable leads and impressive CGI sequences. We can only hope that as a first instalment, this series is merely revving its engines before delivering a sequel that truly capitalises on the brilliance the franchise is capable of achieving.
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Fantasy, Adventure | 12A | USA, 2018 | 8th December 2018 (UK) | Universal Pictures | Dir: Christian Rivers | Hera Hilmar, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Robert Sheehan, Leila George, Stephen Lang