From the book by Philip Reeve comes the long-awaited film adaptation, written by Peter Jackson, he of Lord Of The Rings fame, and others, Jackson decided against directing, passing those duties to Christian Rivers, an uncredited storyboard artist on the LOTR and Hobbit trilogies.
Regardless of how much influence Jackson had on the directing (he claims little), the influence by the man is plain to see as Rivers flies over rugged terrain, showcasing virtual cities built into mountains and people do battle across landscapes.
Mortal Engines isn’t anything new in the story sense; one of revenge and love, to a lesser extent, but visually, as you’d expect given who’s involved, it is stunning. A sort of steam-punk fantasy world with a chunk of a variety of other films thrown in, from John Carter and Howl’s Moving Castle to LOTR.
Despite the over two-hour runtime, Jackson and his fellow writers Fran Walsh (“LOTR”, “The Hobbit”) and Philippa Boyens (“LOTR”, “The Hobbit”) zip through the book and the whole thing has a breathless feel to it.
For the most part this is fine, but it does give some elements the feeling of being rushed; the storyline involving our main protagonist Hester Shaw, Hera Hilmar (“Anna Karenina”, “The Fifth Estate”) and Shrike, Stephen Lang (“Avatar”, “Tombstone”), being one example.
Shaw is looking for revenge for the death of her mother and the man responsible is Thaddeus Valentine, Hugo Weaving (“Hacksaw Ridge“, “LOTR”), the second in command of London. Now, London isn’t quite as you’d know it, not a static island, these days it’s a massive, wheeled behemoth that roams Europe gobbling up smaller wheeled mini-cities. Something those who voted for Brexit will no doubt cheer loudly at.
But Shaw is a bit of history Valentine could do without so, along with her new found friend Tom Natsworthy, Robert Sheehan (“Bad Samaritan“, “The Road Within“), he gets rid of them and they end up off London and into the wastelands.
But they can not stay away for long, particularly as Valentine has found enough ‘old tech’ to recreate one of the devastating weapons that destroyed most of the Earth in the first place and plans to use it sharpish.
This leads the duo, along with Anne Fang, Jihae (“Mars (TV)”), and Katherine Valentine, Leila George (daughter of Vincent D’Onofrio), and a bunch of freedom fighters, to take on Valentine, and the behemoth that is London, and stop it before it reaches its destination.
Mortal Engines is visually stunning and a thrilling ride, you certainly won’t be bored as it races along, literally in some scenes.
However, it’s also full of the usual clichés we’ve come to expect such as people being held at gun-point but managing to talk their way out of it, monsters hell-bent on death being talked out of it by love, machines being stopped last second, you know the stuff.
Whilst this will make your eyes roll in your head, that and trying to figure out if the people of London really are British (they aren’t, but hey, that seems fine, everyone who isn’t British playing a British character – why would we move on from Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, right?), it doesn’t mean Mortal Engines is bad. Far from it. It is a fun, enjoyable, thrilling ride that is a visual feast for the senses. Just don’t expect it to break new ground, it just rolls over existing very well.