Mortal Engines Movie Review - Sputtering on its way to the finish
The narrative borrows a large part of its heft from Mad Max, The Terminator and Star Wars but the effect is never as thrilling.
U/A: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Director: Christian Rivers
Cast: Leila George, Hera Hilmar, Stephen Lang, Robert Sheehan, Jihae Null
A stylish high-concept sci-fi actioner, this Young Adult cinematic adaptation of Philip Reeve's award-winning novel is a post-apocalypse fantasy showcasing humans in a 1700 years from now dystopian future. A time when modernism degenerates into a glorious past. A redesigned world consisting of mobile cities and reinvented rugged industrial tech that swallows up devastated landscapes in its quest for survival riches. The hodgepodge design may look like something straight out of an imaginative theme park rendition but the thrills don't have the exultance of an exhilarating joy ride.
The fantastical imaginings of Philip Reeve may have found definition in this Christian Rivers-Peter Jackson creation but the resultant is not something that sets it apart from the commonplace. There are spectacle and action, seamless CGI and inspiring craft but the narrative fails to kick-up enough excitement.
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The problem mainly lies with the world building here. Since this is the first essay of a possible franchise ( Philip Reeve has four books so far) one would have expected a stronger origin story. The scripting fails to develop that aspect to a satisfactory conclusion. So you have characters running around while the audience is left clueless as to why it's all happening. Some of the backstory nuggets come a little too late to rein in the interest. This is an action-heavy tale of relentless adventure, pursuit, and war that takes its design cues from the past while steaming up the narration with imaginative combat sequences reviving the future. The productions costs must be prohibitive given the superlative production design, special effects, and camerawork. But the failure to work up magic is certainly telling.
Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar's avenging survivor rebel, Hester Shaw reminds you of the young Meg Ryan and she has memorability on her side too. Leila George as Katherine, Robert Sheehan as Tom Natsworthy and Jihae as Anna Fang add to the goodness quotient while Hugo Weaving's Thaddeus Valentine turns into an arch villain aided by cyborg Shrike (played effectively by Stephen Lang) but even so the good versus evil fight fails to capture the imagination. The film has some solid action set-pieces and some that play out poorly because of inconsistent editing. The background score sets up a fairly invigorating tempo and the performances have the enthusiasm associated with fresh blood. The narrative borrows a large part of its heft from Mad Max, The Terminator and Star Wars but the effect is never as thrilling. There's nothing singularly exhilarating about this exercise even though it's conceptually really out-of-this-world!
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