It’s been 10 years since Peter Jackson picked up Philip Reeve’s seminal YA novel, and decided to shepherd it to the silver screen. Mortal Engines is finally rolling into cinemas, and like the mighty traction cities it depicts, the end result is cumbersome, unwieldy and belching waste.
Thankfully, the one thing Jackson is best at – detailed world design – is put to good use in Mortal Engines. Each motorised metropolis is something to behold. The film walks a knife-edge between corny visual references and fascinating infrastructure porn, as the landmarks of London are reimagined on wheels – from the austere dome of St Paul’s to the ever-present Routemaster bus. These visual gags land a lot better than the vocal ones – Mortal Engines chucks in the odd political jibe about Trump and Brexit, but these throwaway lines clash with the film’s allegorical and escapist vibes.
Unfortunately, while the city-vs-city square-offs are breathtaking, human fight sequences are choppy and forgettable. A large part of this is due to the characters – some of the series’ most interesting characters are distilled down to cookie-cutter cliché. Take Shrike: this fan favourite is boiled down to pirate terminator, and a perfectly-cast Stephen Lang is wasted behind inconsistent and boring CGI. And our two leads? Impressively forgettable even by the standards of the young adult film genre – we’ll see if they even get a niche Tumblr following. This numbing, wasteful approach is applied to every interesting character and theme from the book series – at least you can say that Mortal Engines is consistent.
Those unfamiliar with the Mortal Engines series are advised to skip this bland and choppy offering. And book fans? We should have learned from The Hobbit. Stay clear if you like your childhood memories untarnished by Peter Jackson.
CAST: Hugo Weaving, Stephen Lang, Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan
DIRECTOR: Christian Rivers
WRITERS: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson (screenplay), Philip Reeve (based on the book by)
SYNOPSIS: A mysterious young woman named Hester Shaw joins forces with Anna Fang, a dangerous outlaw with a bounty on her head, and Tom Natsworthy, an outcast from London, to lead a rebellion against a giant predator city on wheels.