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Mortal Engines (2018)
Movie Reviews

Mortal Engines (2018)

Offers plenty of excitement and fantasy adventure for much of its – admittedly bloated – running time.

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In a future where mankind has nearly wiped itself out with high-tech war, the world has had to rebuild in the best way to stay alive: stay mobile! Villages and even cities have been reconstructed into gargantuan vehicles and airships. The largest, most dominant of these land-roving cities, London, continues to be the most dominant, but does so by acquiring smaller cities and villages into its grasp, taking all goods onboard and making the people into slaves and citizens. The city may be overseen by the Prime Minister (Patrick Malahide), but the man in charge, the real man of the people is Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving).

Valentine’s daughter, Katherine (Leila George) is friends with one of the city’s most dedicated tech collectors, Tom (Robert Sheehan). She helps Tom get to the lowest levels of the city after London’s swallowed a village, and Tom gets to geek out upon meeting Thaddeus. Things go sideways when a young would-be assassin, Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) attempts to kill Thaddeus. Tom chases her down, but she manages to get out of the city, and Thaddeus kicks Tom out as well for learning something he shouldn’t: Thaddeus is a killer.

Now all stories play out… Tom and Hester are stuck navigating the world together. Tom just wants to get back home to London. Hester wants to kill Thaddeus for the death of her mother. They get recruited by an organization of freedom fighters, led by wanted terrorist Anna Fang (Jihae), to figure out how to stop London’s reign of terror. Meanwhile, Valentine wants to build a superweapon to take over the world and frees an imprisoned cyborg (Stephen Lang) to kill Hester before she can return to cause any more problems. ALSO meanwhile, Katherine searches for the truth about her father…

Mortal Engines is a very ambitious $100,000,000 movie from Universal Studios, based on a series of books by Philip Reeve. It took three screenwriters to bring this globe-trotting epic to the screen, including many familiar names from the world of fantasy films that include Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens (The Hobbit, The Lovely Bones) and Peter Jackson (King Kong, the entire Lord Of The Rings universe).

Despite Jackson’s involvement, it was Christian Rivers (Minutes Past Midnight) who directs this huge undertaking. Despite the negative press from other reviewers, and the horrible opening weekend showing (only pulling in less than ten million in the United States), I’d say this relative newcomer who’s usually just a visual effects artist did a pretty solid job.

The visuals and action sequences in this movie were stunningly epic, intense, and just a whole lot of fun! The second big action scene of the movie, about 10 minutes in, actually reminded me of the final epic battle from the recent Spider-Man: Inter The Spider-verse,w hich was pretty cool.

The acting was solid all around. I have no real complaints and was actually surprised as the two leads are actors I’ve never seen in anything before this. The baddies get the best bits, of course, as Weaving is a great villain (as always) and Jihae was a badass (as always).

The only real problem I had with this movie was that they stuffed so many storylines into that 128-minute runtime. It felt a bit bloated. As a result, there always seemed to be a lot going on, and yet they glossed over a lot of seemingly important and interesting elements with little more than a cursory glance. There were several times during the film when I thought it might work better as a TV series, or at least a mini-series event. There’s a lot of strings to pull within this tale, and I’d love to see them become truly unraveled rather than just the occasional tug.

I don’t think Mortal Engines deserves the knocks it’s been getting. It’s a fine film that was a fun, if not overstuffed, ride for much of its two-hours. I recommend ignoring most of the naysayers – especially if you’re a fan of the genre – and check this one out for yourselves. It’s pretty clear that so much focus is going to be not on the film itself, but how much of a “disaster” it’ll end up costing the studio and talent involved. What a shame we spend so much focus on things that have nothing to do with the actual film itself.