Philip Reeve’s beloved book gets the big screen treatment in this latest addition to the young-adult film adaptation list. It follows in the footsteps of, among others, The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner and Ender’s Game and much like those movies Mortal Engines delivers broadly the same story of a saviour to humankind who has to overcome big odds. This tale has the creative talents of Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) as a co-scripter and producer, with Christian Rivers in the director’s chair.
Mortal Engines is an enjoyable watch with a great cast and some stunning visuals thrown in, however it’s nothing that we haven’t seen before (in some capacity). After such high profile movies as The Hunger Games, there needs to be something more game-changing added to the mix if it’s to stand out in its own right, but Mortal Engines never seems to get out of second gear. It’s perfectly fine, but given the talent involved both in-front of the camera and behind it, I was expecting more.
The story is set in a post-apocalyptic world where cities have become mobile; mounted onto wheels as vehicles that patrol the badlands (known as the great hunting ground) looking to salvage anything they can to survive and to challenge other cities for dominance. Our plot revolves around Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), a young woman looking for revenge against corrupt Head of the Guild of Historians Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving) in London.
After a failed attempt at taking his life, Hester is unwittingly thrown out into the great hunting ground and is paired up with a young apprentice historian named Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan). She seeks to get back onto the moving London vessel so she can finish her job, but time is against her as Valentine has a plan in motion to create a devastating weapon that will make London a supreme power.
The performances are collectively all good, with Hera Hilmar doing great in the lead role. She brings a relatable angst to Hester that makes it easy to champion her cause. Robert Sheehan is his usual, reliable self and conjures up a nice central pairing with Hilmar that gradually grows into itself as the story moves on. There’s solid support from the likes of Jihae as Anna Fang, an amazing pilot and warrior who’s the head of the Anti-Traction League. They are a resistance group banding against the moving cities devouring Earth’s resources, and they meet up with Hester to aid in her fight. Jihae channels her inner Keanu Reeves for a role that bears a bit of a resemblance to Neo from The Matrix. Patrick Malahide, Leila George, Ronan Raftery and Regé-Jean Page are also solid onscreen.
Hugo Weaving was exceptional, and frankly, is too good for the film. He steals every scene he is in with a magnetic performance that chews up everything around him. Weaving brings a perfect balance to the role of Thaddeus Valentine, giving him an authoritative charm that’s hard not to love, even though he’s the bad guy. Stephen Lang is also good as Shrike. He plays a robotic undead soldier (part of a defunct battalion known as Stalkers) who has looked after Hester since she was a child. Re-animated with machine parts, Shrike is an imposing and impressive visual to see on-screen and his story with Hester is actually the best part of Mortal Engines as it has the most heart and soul. Shrike is in pursuit of Hester during the film looking for revenge on a broken promise, and the constant threat of his arrival gives the film a nice edge.
Mortal Engines is a decent enough film and I imagine that it would glue the casual viewer to their TV if it was on over the Christmas holidays. As a cinematic effort it looks good but there are better and more exciting options available to you and your hard-earned cash, this time of year so perhaps it’s best to wait for the Home Ent release. Fans of the books will get what they need from this, but there’s nothing particularly memorable once the dust settles on Mortal Engines.
Cast: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Patrick Malahide, Leila George, Ronan Raftery, Regé-Jean Page Director: Christian Rivers Writer: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Philip Reeve Released By: Universal Certificate: 12A Duration: 128 mins Release Date: 14th December 2018