Produced and co-written by Peter Jackson (of Hobbit fame), this cinematic adaption of Philip Reeve’s YA novel is a passable, but ultimately forgettable adventure film. With good production values but a plot that leaves you wanting more, Mortal Engines is good for a lazy afternoon at the cinema.
The film is set in the far future when humans live on hulking mobile cities that scour the earth for resources after a “Sixty Minute War” devastates the entire eco system. Teenager Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) is out for revenge against Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), who murdered her mother for a powerful artefact.
Lowly apprentice Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) gets accidentally caught up in Hester’s personal mission of vengeance, and both are forced to choose a side in the coming conflict between the huge nomadic “traction” cities and the “Anti-traction” resistance who live on the ground.
If this sounds a bit on the dark side for YA fiction, then yes, Mortal Engines is a film that does not shy away from the darker side of humanity. Death and sacrifice are major themes in the film, with many characters having to risk their lives for the cause they believe in.
The film also touches on other big themes in a minor way. The class inequality inherent in many classic works of steampunk fiction is also on display here, with the contrast between the rich and the poor unwashed masses made apparent in everything from dialogue to costume design.
The action sequences are also fanciful and spectacular. They have to be in a film chock-full of them and they are indeed a visual delight, big and impressive without being too hard to follow. Unfortunately the quality of acting was only average, with the only standout being South Korean musician Jihae as resistance leader Anna Fang. She truly brought the style and charisma of a rock star to the role, which is fitting as she is a rock musician in real life.
Overall, Mortal Engines is a film that has all the elements of a fun movie, but just can’t make you remember it very well. It’s a good popcorn film to enjoy once, and never think about again.