UNIVERSAL PICTURES (2018)
Director: Christian Rivers
Starring: Hugo Weaving, Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang
From the producers of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
PETER JACKSON! THAT MAN WHO DID THOSE MOVIES! YOU KNOW, THAT ONE THAT HAD LEGOLAS LEAPING OFF FALLING BLOCKS IN ONE OF THE WORST MOMENTS IN RECENT MOVIE HISTORY?! The marketing has been screaming to us that Peter Jackson (a man whom I do admire, let it be known) has lent his talents to Mortal Engines in such a way that you’d be forgiven for thinking he directed it. That job fell to Jackson’s long-time collaborator Christian Rivers, so, to you, Christian – I recognise you as the man behind the movie.
In a barren, post-apocalyptic world, cities have been lifted onto massive wheels and now roam the planet devouring each other for resources. At the top of the food chain is London, powered by the energy-focused mind of Thaddeus Valentine (Weaving). When a masked assailant, Hester (Hilmar), attempts to assassinate him, a chain of events is set in motion that leads to a potential large-scale warfare between cities and the (re)introduction of destructive superweapons.
Based on a 2001 novel of the same name by Philip Reeve (our man Jackson likes taking written/existing properties and rehashing them), Mortal Engines carries all the hallmarks of a movie created by the visionaries within his circle. It’s big in scale, packed with those expansive wide shots, crammed with the huge CGI-smothered visuals and carries that WingNut Films visual style and palette. However, regardless of what your lover may say, big doesn’t always equate to better and that’s certainly the case here. Mortal Engines isn’t a good movie. In fact, it’s pretty terrible. Spectacle and style cannot cover a bland narrative or all of those Star Wars callbacks and so much of the movie fails to ignite (there was one moment where I LITERALLY EXPECTED one of the characters to scream “now this is pod-racing!”). Worst of all, for the big, epic spectacle that Mortal Engines was supposed to be, there’s just no excitement to be found. The action scenes are so poorly edited that it’s a fight just to see what’s actually happening. The protagonists are weak and for the majority of the movie, Hester is pretty unlikable for a character we are meant to sympathise with and follow. Robert Sheehan as Tom Natsworthy is the most believable British actor in the movie and really has a hapless task as his character is awful. At one point during a battle, he stops and spends time deciding what new leather jacket to wear before re-emerging in said jacket in slow motion. Ugh. Stephen Lang shows up as the Terminator, literally. A character that could have been so cool ended up being a punk. I liked Hugo Weaving though, for what it’s worth.
London was oddly depicted as having gone back to Dickensian times where people all have odd accents because…humour? Who knows? The steampunk image worked at times, but the industrial visuals didn’t entirely work. Throughout, we are asked to feel bad for the characters, to empathise with them and even cry and feel emotion at their journey – including a resurrected cyber-zombie-robot (yep) – but the writing simply does not afford the characters the richness and depth that these emotions require leaving it all feeling hollow. The ideas of capitalism start right away but crumble for limp action and a frankly bad love plot, and even when the messages re-appear, the EPICNESS is just far too overwhelming to allow for such frivolities. The team of Jackson and Rivers was/is due to helm a remake of Dambusters – on this evidence, please rethink. Really.
Also, when a plot device was simply labelled 'U.S.A.', I nearly launched my popcorn at the screen (and I’m aware of the wholly New Zealand roots of the movie).
What I will say is the movie is paced well. Rivers doesn’t allow a lot of time for slowing down or contemplation. Like the roaming cities, the story just keeps going so at least there weren’t any major lulls to get through. Plus, New Zealand still looks awesome!
To say I was disappointed with Mortal Engines is an understatement. The trailer worried me as it was just bad, however, the trailer ended up being better than the feature-length movie. Disposable, uninspiring characters fused with not-always-great CGI is bad enough, but when the spectacle is utterly absent from a movie that is obviously aiming for just that, then there was really no winning for Mortal Engines. Alas, Mortal Engines is not as crazy as it thinks it is, nor as deep as it wants to be – and it’s certainly not a good movie.
December 9th 2018