Mortal Engines

A thousand years from now London is a giant rolling city under the command of Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving) who plans to use ancient 21st Century technology to build a super weapon. 

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When a young woman called Hester (Hera Hilmar) sneaks on board to assassinate Valentine, she finds herself ejected from the city alongside expert in ancient tech Tom (Robert Sheehan). Now outcasts, they have no choice but to join forces to stop London’s wackiest leader since Boris/Ken (delete according to your politics).

Director Christian Rivers does an excellent job in bringing this steampunk fantasy world to life, making a huge rolling city seem somehow believable. This makes the elaborate battles, particularly an early city-on-city chase, a dazzling spectacle. The ginormous wheeled metropolis gives new meaning to Transport for London, and an action sequence involving St Paul’s Cathedral gives Mission Impossible: Fallout a Wren for its money.

mortal-engines-thaddeus-valentine-trench-coatProduced by Peter Jackson and written with Lord of the Rings writing partners Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, the film somewhat remarkably commits a number of cardinal sins of fantasy film making. It has an alphabet plot as our main characters go from A to B to C with no clear purpose. A lot goes unexplained and, unusually for a Jackson project, it feels squashed rather than bloated.

Apparently important characters are underwritten and crucial backstory covered in fleeting flashbacks. Potentially interesting arcs are left unexplored, such as the relationship between Hester and her adoptive protector Shrike (Stephen Lang), and between Valentine and his daughter Katherine (Leila George). Both she and engineer Bevis (Ronan Raferty) play important parts, but are barely given any screen time as they’re left in London to interject into the plot as convenient. It’s not helped by the lame, cliché-ridden dialogue, lack of humour and uninspiring lead performances.

Mortal Engines does what The Lord of the Rings always avoided and puts special effects before the story. The result is an often remarkable visual experience but ultimately in service of events it’s impossible to care about. Steer well clear.

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