Mortal Engines is an action-adventure film from executive producer Peter Jackson of The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film franchises. Here he co-writes alongside frequent collaborators Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh to adapt the young adult novel series by Philip Reeve.
Christian Rivers makes his feature directorial debut with this film, which follows Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), a vagabond living in a post-apocalyptic world hundreds of years into the future after the “60 Second War.” In this new world people reside in mobile cities on wheels, in which the larger predator cities hunt the smaller settlements.
When Hester finds herself in the predator city of London, she comes across Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), the man who murdered her mother Pandora and left her scarred. She takes the chance encounter to get her revenge, but is stopped by the naive Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), and they find themselves caught up in a conspiracy that could change the power balance of their world.
From a conceptual standpoint it’s easy to see what attracted Peter Jackson and company to this project. A world where towns and cities are mobilized on giant wheels and treads is something to behold, and from a visual perspective Mortal Engines is one of the more distinctive blockbusters to come out in recent years. Combining Mad Max: Fury Road style chase sequences (it helps that Junkie XL composes for this film as well) with a Victorian steam-punk aesthetic and a dash of classic fantasy tropes, the film successfully combines familiar elements under the hood, with a fresh new coat of paint on the surface.
The opening sequence of Mortal Engines is one of the more visually engaging and awe-inspiring works of creativity and visual effects of 2018. It perfectly sets the tone for the kind of world that audiences are being introduced to in Mortal Engines. However, the film isn’t able to keep that momentum going once we are introduced to our cast of characters.
Hester Shaw’s growly persona becomes somewhat monotonous, while Tom Natsworthy’s naïveté is meant to be a folly for Shaw’s dourness. The performances feel tonally at odds, making it tough to buy any real chemistry between the two leads.
Beyond them, in the supporting cast we have Anna Fang serving as this film’s mentor/rogue in the vein of an Obi-Wan/Han Solo mix. She’s got a distinctive look and memorable entrance with hints at an interesting backstory, but very little is done with her character to fully flesh it out. Instead we get a by-the-numbers trajectory for her character with a predictable outcome that doesn’t feel emotionally earned.
The same can be said of Leila George’s Katherine Valentine and Stephen Lang’s immortal Shrike. Both characters have subplots with the potential to be something special, but are shortchanged for less than satisfying conclusions. The only one who has anything going for him is Hugo Weaving’s Thaddeus Valentine.
Leave it to a veteran actor like Weaving to add some dimension to his character. Though this isn’t his best or most memorable performance to date, Weaving does bring a level of gravitas to his role as Valentine. Valentine is an ambitious man with a practical level of thinking who worries more about meeting his goals than how he goes about achieving them.
Regardless, there are still aspects to enjoy about the film and it is a gorgeous movie to watch on Blu-ray with stunning wide shots and overall beautiful cinematography. ~Paolo Maquiraya
Welcome to London – Five-part featurette series narrated by Robert Sheehan that delves into the predator city of London and all the main sections of the city that the film takes place in.
End of the Ancients – Featurette detailing the world of the ancients that lived before the “60 Second War.”
In the Air – Featurette in which the production crew discusses the design and look of the floating city of Airhaven.
Character Series – Actors Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Jihae, Hugo Weaving and Stephen Lang discuss their respective characters of Hester Shaw, Tom Natsworthy, Anna Fang, Thaddeus Valentine, and Shrike. What they loved about their characters and what attracted them to those roles.
Film New Zealand – Production crew discusses filming in New Zealand for Mortal Engines and past experiences with The Lord of the Rings films.
Director Commentary with Christian Rivers – A director commentary track that can be played alongside the film for insight into the filming process.