Saturday, March 2, 2024

Mortal Engines

Movie Name:
Mortal Engines
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Christian Rivers
Starring: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang, Colin Salmon, Mark Mitchinson, Rene-Jean Page, Menik Gooneratne, Frankie Adams, Andrew Lees, Leifur Sigurdarson
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
"Mortal Engines" is Christian Rivers's full feature directorial debut, after tackling a short and a segment of the anthology "Minutes Past Midnight". The film follows the adventures of Hester Shaw, a young woman in pursuit of revenge in a post apocalyptic world. The narrative takes place thousands of years in the future, where the planet is now populated with mobile cities. The city of London is one of the biggest and has been capturing smaller towns and settlements and absorbing its populations. Their goal is to take on a more static settlement that exist in Asia (what used to be China), which is protected by a "Shield Wall". Hester gets captured into the city of London, and there she meets Tom Natsworthy, an apprentice historian. Hester's focus is to exact revenge on Thaddeus Valentine, Head of the Guild of Historians, since he murdered her mother. Following a scuffle, Hester escapes the city, and Tom soon follows, as Thaddeus pushes him out of the city as well. Tom and Hester are forced to work together, but they're soon captured and are about to be sold as slaves until Anna Fang shows up and frees them (Anna turns out was a dear friend of Hester's mother). Thaddeus in the meantime seeks the help of a reanimated cyborg by the name of Shrike, in order to capture Hester, as Shrike raised her following the death of her mother. As Hester, Tom and Anna eventually regroup and head for the Shield Wall, they realize Thaddeus and the city of London is going to attack, with a secret weapon that only Hester can stop. 
"Mortal Engines" is part of a popular series of books by Philip Reeve, which has a steampunk vibe and aesthetic to it. Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh (the team behind the adaption of the "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" series) tackled this adaptation, leaving Christian Rivers with the responsibility of illustrating and bringing this world to life. Rivers who has a background in visual effects (he worked in all of Peter Jackson's films since "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"), sadly doesn't find a satisfactory way of moving past the clichés in which these characters operate, while at the same time the mediocre visual effects don't necessarily bring this post-apocalyptic world to life in a compelling manner. The narrative is set in motion very much like any young adult literary piece, where there's a central heroine who has trauma to overcome, and who eventually finds a romantic interest who becomes her accomplice in getting her agenda fulfilled. The problem with this film, aside from the fact that the characters are cardboard clichés, is the fact that the motivations for all of them are simplified to the point that they're almost non-existent. Even Hugo Weaving who is usually a compelling presence in any role he tackles, feels lost and missing a sense of purpose towards what his character is wanting to do and be (he comes across as a reluctant villain, being monstrous in one way, but also not so much, trying to be a docile and emotional father figure for other characters). Most of the supporting characters exist only as ammunition to the noise that is being portrayed, and the central characters, both Hester and Tom, are surprisingly shallow. The cast fails to bring much distinction and vitality to what is taking place. The production team is also a mixed bag, with the mediocre special effects becoming very apparent, though Tom Holkenborg's score is solid, the same going for Bob Ruck and Kate Hawley's costumes. It's a missed opportunity, considering the talent behind this adaptation.