Mortal Engines might present some generic story turns, but the worldbuilding, the amount of detail put into the world, and fantastic sound elevates the entire production.
Director: Christian Rivers
Summary: In a post-apocalyptic world where cities ride on wheels and consume each other to survive, two people meet in London and try to stop a conspiracy.
To say that Mortal Engines is a perfect movie would be a lie. There issues it does have mostly come down to some of the story beats. There are a lot of familiar pieces here when it comes to drawing inspiration from other source material. If you’ve ever read a post-apocalyptic young adult book, then you know most of these cliches. The bad guys have a super weapon and are trying to destroy the good guys. The symbolism is either nicely integrated or it’s about as subtle as a 2×4 to the face. These things are weaknesses that cannot be denied.
However, sometimes everything else can be good enough that the weaknesses either don’t matter or you’re willing to overlook them. In this case, everything else about Mortal Engines worked and despite those generic story beats and cliches, the fresh coat of paint makes them feel at least a little new. Its biggest strength is probably the world building and all of the details that go into creating this new form of Earth. We managed to destroy ourselves in this reality and we did so in sixty minutes–which is probably pretty accurate to how we’ll actually destroy ourselves. The main character talks about the world that once was and look to familiar pieces of technology for answers. The little things about that exposition, like saying how few books survived makes sense because everything is digitized and that technology is gone, makes the world feel real.
There are also the giant moving cities and towns. They are beautifully realized and the amount of detail that is put into them is, frankly, staggering. You see the giant moving city of London chasing down a smaller town to literally consume it for fuel. The symbolism here is pretty on-the-nose and you watch as the people of London cheer while they chase down a town, desperately trying to escape its fate. There isn’t a piece of these cities that don’t feel lovingly crafted and the amount of detail that’s been put into them is astounding. A lot of care was put into creating these visuals, and it clearly shows.
While the characters follow a pretty standard path, everyone does a good job of being compelling presences. Jihae as Anna Fang is a movie star and owns every single scene that she’s in. Hera Hilmer manages to pull off a very difficult role in Hester Shaw, a character who needs to have many different layers but she makes them all feel like the same person. Robert Sheehan takes a character who could have been incredibly irritating and manages to instead make him rather endearing. Hugo Weaving happily chews the scenery every single time you see him on screen and it’s a joy to watch.
A couple of characters do feel like they get the short end of the stick, and they possibly had their story end up on the cutting room floor. A subplot involving Leila George as Katherine Valentine, the daughter of Weaving’s Thaddeus Valentine, and another young engineer named Bevis (Ronan Raftery) doesn’t have them doing much aside from discovering things so we aren’t confused as we watch the movie.
Special mention must be given to Tom Holkenberg aka Junkie XL for an absolutely fantastic score. It’s beautifully epic and big, which is fitting considering we’re watching a movie about giant moving cities.
Mortal Engines might stumble when it comes to originality in the story department, but everything else is so well done that it’s easy to let it go. This is a movie that looks so amazing and truly feels like a passion project. A flawed passion project that takes chances is always more fun than a movie that takes no chances at all. Absolutely worth a look.
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