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‘Mortal Engines’ is Ambitious With Terrific Visuals, But the Lacklustre Narrative Causes it to Fall Short – Review

Based on the novel of the same name written by Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines is a post-apocalyptic fantasy where the “Sixty Minute War” in the 21st century has ravaged the planet. Hundreds of years later, the remainder of humanity has to rely on living on machines that are essentially moving metropolitan cities, mining towns, or a plethora of other moving entities. However, a new threat has emerged needing, the city of London has been wreaking havoc on smaller towns, virtually eating them up for resources.

We meet our protagonist Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) on a simple mining town, where she’s been awaiting the predatory city of London. She has unfinished business with London’s Head of the Guild of Historians, Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving). However, not all of these large places are bad, in fact, the Anti-Traction League seeks to absorb the “predator cities” and create settlements where everyone can live, free from harm and destruction. However, when Hester finally arrives in London, her mission is foiled by London citizen, Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan). Although, he’s unaware that Hester’s intentions against Valentine are warranted.

Hera Hilmar as Hester Shaw (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Tom ends up finding out the hard way that Valentine is not who he believes him to be. After Valentine attempts to dispose of him and Hester, the two unlikely compatriots venture on a journey to try to get back on London and stop Valentine before his ambition and selfishness destroy the world as they know it. In their travels, they come across pilot and leader of the Anti-Traction League, Anna Fang (Jihae), who is truly one of the film’s bright points. It then becomes a race against time for Anna, Hester, and Tom to stop Valentine from committing any more dastardly deeds.

Now, as Mortal Engines comes to us from the team who gave us the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I will say that I had higher hopes. Visually speaking, I didn’t feel disappointed – however, story-wise I was. While the creation of the mobile cities, flying cities and landscape were beautiful to behold, this was probably the film’s only great things (save for some of the acting performances, which I will get to later). While I didn’t read the book, based on what others who’ve read the book, the narrative is not as basic as it was in the film. The narrative was ultimately the movie’s downfall – it was almost a blend of past dystopian-like movies all rolled into one, with some new visuals added in as a means to distract the audience from the lacklustre storytelling.

Jihae as Anna Fang (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Aside from the visuals, the film’s other saving grace is its performances. Truly, I could watch Hugo Weaving in anything and Mortal Engines is no different. Valentine is a great villain, blinded by his own ambition and Weaving plays the role perfectly. Another standout performance comes in the form of Jihae’s Anna Fang. Anna was great to watch and oozed unlimited coolness. Unfortunately, we don’t get to spend as much time with the character as I would have liked, and I do feel the film would have had an added boost, if we did get to see Anna kicking more a** on-screen.  Lastly, newcomer Hera Hilmar did a great job as Hester. She was able to convey so much, even with the narrative not being the greatest and I’m interested to see what the future holds for the young actress.

Ultimately, Mortal Engines was just okay. I give it kudos for what it tried to do and for what it tried to be, and I think if the narrative was a little more fleshed out, it would have been great. Some parts simply felt rushed and while there were some entertaining elements, the great visuals and performances unfortunately just weren’t enough to keep the entire film afloat. 

Mortal Engines is now in theaters.

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