Film Review: Mortal Engines

Written By: Riyan Bajric

The latest contrivance from Peter Jackson, Mortal Engines is a post-apocalyptic action thriller on wheels. The film was penned and produced by Jackson with newcomer Christian Rivers making his feature film directorial debut under Jackson’s wing. The concept of Mortal Engines is set thousands of years ahead of our time. After what was known of the “Sixty Minute War”, the Earth’s crust has shattered resulting in a large loss of the earth’s surface area and natural resources. The loss of resources is the main motivating factor behind entire cities transforming their societies into moving war machines. Their only goal; strategizing towards conquering one another for resources. These concepts do not stray far from our own political climate in its current state. The amped up and glamorized special effects make these concepts of moving beasts of cities a fantastic steam-punk fuelled spectacle that gets your gears going. 

The story of Mortal Engines centres around a young apprenticing historian Tom Natsworthy played by Robert Sheehan. The young aspiring aviator unwillingly becomes involved in the attempted murder of the main monopolizing figure of London and Head of Guild of Historians, Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving). The would-be assassin, Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), is a masked and mysterious femme fatale figure with some of the new world’s darkest and deepest secrets. After being mostly unsuccessful with her assassination attempt, no thanks to Tom, Hester and Tom find themselves exiled off of London and into the Great Hunting Ground. Left to face the bleak landscape of the new destructed world alone, a world that director Rivers and the set designer Rosie Guthrie decorate with numerous memorable cinematic set pieces, including a southern bayou style encampment vehicle that rolls and crawls through the landscape with clay formations on its back resembling armour similar to something you would see on an ancient dinosaur or armadillo.

After being captured and sold as slaves, Hester and Tom are lucky enough to be saved by top world assassin Anna Fang. Korean pop star and actress Jihae plays Fang, pilot and leader of the anti-establishment force known as the “anti-tractionists” who oppose the mobilization of cities and subsequent warfare that comes with the capitalist nature of it all. Opposing the idea of what the predator cities adopt as “Municipal Darwinism”, Fang steals Hester and Tom as well as the slave market scene from the movie commanding attention. Donning a red leather trench coat tat resembles something out of a colourful parallel world Matrix, Fang saves our main protagonists without a hair falling out-of-place from her Presley style pompadour. this among many others scenes in the film are hard to ignore for its blatent yet often times crazy imitation type scenes. Typically, while films with this type of budget and nature, tend to pay great tribute and homage to some of the films it get inspiration film, Mortal Engine tends to spill a little too much grease on its mirroring scenes.

In addition to this array of fresh new faces of actors, the supporting cast also includes Leila George D’Onofrio, playing Katherine Valentine, Thaddeus Valentine’s daughter and at least in portions of the film seeming love interest to Tom. Stephen Lang plays the role of Shrike, a Metal Gear Solid styled undead soldier from a battalion called The Stalkers. While Shrike is made mostly of metal and being undead, Shrike and Hester provide the film with the most emotional parts of the film and perhaps the film’s best subplot, Lang and Hilmar give the majority of the film its beating heart, no matter ow cold the subject material really is.

While Mortal Engines will be a hard sell in a jam-packed holiday schedule of films, this dystopian future feature film does some provide audiences with amusing portrayals of the future. Both Rivers and Jackson create a world that is both terrifying to imagine, yet fascinating and hard to look away from. Although the film tries a little too hard on being a Mad Max imitation the film is peppered with popular culture references touching on everything from minions, to Apple products (specifically iPhones) and toasters; displayed and spoken about as if they were ancient relics that providing us humans with some essential and crucial nourishment. One of my favourite and probably the most humorous scenes in the film was when we see Esther pull out a Twinkie to eat. Tom makes a remark at how old the Twinkie is and in a cheeky jab towards the food industry, she diffuses his worries by claiming food from the past even if it is a thousand years old in their case of story and time, “never goes bad”.

Ultimately, even with some structural voids in the story and certain points where the plot loses the wind in its sails, Mortal Engines does its best job at being overtly entertaining. Its portrayal of a distant future was surprisingly humorous and time dwindling in the realm of apocalyptic filmmaking.

Night Film Reviews: 5.5 Out of 10 Stars!

What did you think of Mortal Engines? Hot on all cylinders or an engine waiting to explode? What did you think of all the fresh and new faced actors? Leave your comments below. Ready, set, go!

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