By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Based on the novel by Phillip Reeves, Mortal Engines the movie introduces a very imaginative and unique post-apocalyptic world where cities have gone mobile and battle each other for supremacy. It is most definitely a creative vision for steampunk fiction and Peter Jackson’s effects team and art department certainly deliver a visually striking and very credible take on this world. This, however, is where the creativity and originality ends. As the events of the story unfold and characters are introduced, the movie plays out like an all too obvious Star Wars offspring.
After much of civilization gets destroyed by the “Sixty Minute War,” the survivors have a new vision for the world and its cities. Most of humanity have taken what remains of their cities and turned them into mobile civilizations who all live under the law of “Municipal Darwinism.” The city of London has dominated as one of the stronger civilizations under the leadership of Mayor Magnus Crome (Patrick Malahide) and Historian Guild Leader Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving). A group of rebels has grown more powerful, though, and hope to end the reign of the mobile cities. Meanwhile, another rebellious young lady named Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) hopes to take down Valentine for more personal reasons.
With an adapted screenplay by Fran Walsh, Phillippa Bowens, and Peter Jackson, director Christian Rivers has made a visually beautiful film with some taut thrilling action, but the ridiculously derivative story and characters fail to give the aesthetics any real substance. I have no problems with stories or movies that draw inspiration from other sources. The Star Wars Saga is a prime example of this practice, but the creative minds behind that franchise were able to take “borrowed” tropes, beats and characters and re-envision them in newer ways. This movie fails to do just that.
As good as the world-building is, I was not too impressed with development (or lack thereof) of the characters. The acting is fine, but not extraordinary. Hera Hilmar performs mostly well as Hester Shaw. Actor Robert Sheehan gives a solid turn as apprentice historian Tom Natsworthy, a young and naive man caught in the middle of the conflict between Hester and Thaddeus Valentine. Speaking of whom, Hugo Weaving is perfectly cast as this power-hungry, and quite literally, scenery chewing villain. Also noteworthy is Stephen Lang who portrays Hester’s robotic guardian Shrike and Jihae who has fun as the Han Solo-esque rebel Anna Fang.
Now, I will acknowledge that I actually had some fun with this film, but grew increasingly irritated when I easily recognized the nearly identical elements to Star Wars. Mortal Engines had the potential of being much more inventive with its story, but took a safely banal route. I am reluctantly recommending this movie as as matinee, because to spend any more money on tickets is sure to leave one feeling ripped off.