Mortal Engines is a new film produced by Peter Jackson and directed by his frequent collaborator Christian Rivers. It is about a futuristic society in which cities move around on wheels and consume each other to fight for resources. It is based on the book of the same name by Philip Reeve.
This story is ridiculously derivative. There are a few interesting ideas, but not enough to make the movie as a whole interesting. The plot is a mixture of tropes from so many different movies that it ends up just feeling like an unoriginal mess. This is the unholy child of Mad Max and Star Wars, and it was raised by all of the lackluster YA adaptations that came out in the past decade.
The mythology of the film is also extremely confusing. It’s definitely a very busy movie with many subplots and storylines trying to come together. The main story of the post-apocalyptic world is really interesting. If the movie had spent more time explaining the structure of their society, describing the hierarchy and telling the backstory in more detail, it would have been much more involving. Instead, we get a subplot about a zombie cyborg.
The movie’s attempts at comedic relief are disappointing too. Granted, they do receive laughs, but not for the right reasons. There are jokes about smartphones and Twinkies, and they are not very good. There are some parts of the film that are unintentionally funny too. For example, the ancient technology that is a significant plot point is called “Old Tech”. They couldn’t have thought of a better name?
The movie’s biggest shortcoming, though, is creating characters about which the audience cares. The hallmark of the YA novel and adaptation is that teenagers should be able to empathize with the protagonist in some way. The fantasy and science fiction elements serve as metaphors for everyday life issues. This movie is simply too big, and it loses that charm as a result.
That being said, the action is actually pretty good. In fact, the action sequences are pretty much the only thing that make the movie somewhat enjoyable to watch. There is a chase scene in the beginning, and while it pales in comparison to Mad Max: Fury Road, it is still quite intense. The character Anna Fang has a few cool action scenes too.
The visuals are strong as well. This is definitely meant to be seen on the biggest screen possible. Seeing this movie in IMAX was cool and definitely justifies the upcharge if you are going to see it anyway. The cinematography and visual effects both look really good. The visuals for the world-building are particularly impressive.
Overall, Mortal Engines is eye candy. It’s a big budget action film with a convoluted story. Ten years ago, this may have been a hit, but this movie’s time has come and gone.
Mortal Engines opens in theaters December 14.