WARNING: Possible Spoilers Ahead!
Fantasy has always been one of the most popular genres for storytellers to work in, and audiences to experience. The advantage to fantasy is that the world in which the story and characters reside in doesn’t actually exist. The teller can create any kind of world that they want; from something major like the names and locations, to something small like the lingo the people of the world use. For the reader, a fully detailed world gives them the ability to imagine other things that could be happening.
In the new film Mortal Engines, we get a look at a new kind of fantasy world. Centuries after an event known as the “Sixty Minute War,” the only way people survived the unstable conditions was to turn towns and cities into monstrous vehicles. As the years went by, resources became scarce and the remaining cities fight over every little scrap that’s left.
One of the most powerful cities in the world is London, but even they are running low even as they prey on tiny towns in the area. One such town contains Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), a young woman looking for revenge on London’s lead historian Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving) for the murder of her mother. When her assassination attempt is thwarted by an apprentice named Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), she makes escape with him unfortunately in tow.
However, Valentine is not only truly responsible for the death of Hester’s mother, but he committed the act to obtain something. He wanted an old object from the past that is really the keep component to a powerful weapon of the old ages. He is determined to use the weapon to ensure London’s survive and assert his power. With the help of an outlaw named Anna Fang (Jihae), Hester and Tom must put aside their differences in order to end Valentine’s reign of terror.
It was exciting to hear that Peter Jackson was working on a new fantasy saga, and the concept seemed interesting. A steampunk dystopian adventure sounded better than another Middle Earth-type film. However, with Jackson not directing and the arrival of the trailers, the film began looking less and less appealing. By the time the film actually came out, expectations were pretty low.
So in the end, Mortal Engines was all that great, but it manages to skate by on a “dumb fun” basis. It has enough fun action and refreshing set pieces to mostly make up for its clunky screenplay, mediocre performances, and generic execution. It had all the potential to be a fun new franchise, but it manages to be moderately entertaining for one film rather than a four part saga.
For the most part, the action is pretty fun despite being driven by the ludicrous sight of giant, wheeled cities chasing each other with the intent of eating each other. Though it seemed right to hate something like that, they ended up being moderately entertaining. Without that, the film would have collapsed more than it already did.
Despite having a good cast, the performances were mediocre at best. Someone like Hugo Weaving should be able to turn a good performance, and even though he was arguably the best performance of the film, he still was just okay at best. Second to him would have to be Jihae as Anna Fang. It wasn’t the great performance, but she was charismatic enough to carry the role.
One of the downsides to the film was the screenplay. It was rather disappointing to for a script written by Peter Jackson and his patterns from the Middle Earth films to turn out so sloppy and uneven. The dialogue was very cheesy and even laughable in places. Everything said by the characters was generic dialogue in the most basic way possible. The tone was also strange, changing between humorous and serious, light-hearted and terrifying. This makes the film rather jarring in places.
The overall humor in the film is a mix bag in the film. It ranges from ineffective to groan-worthy to actually effective. The most conflicting humor would have to be the way the film managed product placement in a story set over a thousand years in the future. There’s a seen where the characters eat Twinkies (a well-intentioned joke that just doesn’t land), iPhones are seen labeled as “old tech,” and statues of “American deities” are apogees of Minions. It’s easy to see why they picked these, but that doesn’t mean they were effective or even necessary.
Mortal Engines isn’t the next epic fantasy series, which is disappointing considering the talent behind the camera. Its tone and screenplay are uneven and ridiculous, and the direction of visual effects artist Christian Rivers means the film focuses on the visuals over the story and characters. However, the laughable dialogue and the over-the-top action sequences ended up making this film so bad it’s kinda good. At least it wasn’t the total disaster the trailers made it out to be.