Mortal Engines (AU - M / UK - 12A / US - PG-13)

In A Word: Derivative

Mortal Engines

Visually spectacular but...

 

"Promotion for the film touts the tagline “From the filmmakers of The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit". With that recommendation, there is an expectation of a great visual spectacle and on that front Mortal Engines does not disappoint."

In the wake of the staggering success of the Hunger Games, studios have flooded the market in search of the next teen dystopian block-buster. This year has already seen Maze Runner: The Death Cure, The Darkest Minds, and Ready Player One present their tributes on the silver screen with varying success. Now Mortal Engines brings the first of a quartet of books by Philip Reeve spectacularly to the screen.

Promotion for the film touts the tagline “From the filmmakers of The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit". With that recommendation, there is an expectation of a great visual spectacle and on that front Mortal Engines does not disappoint. Gargantuan moving cites, floating towns in the air, prisons with legs over the ocean and transforming buildings are realised in stunning detail. The world that has been created is one of “municipal Darwinism” where big cities literally ingest the smaller towns. While I’m sure this is somewhat allegorical, what it amounts to cinematically are Mad Max-style chase sequences, not with cars but with massive, moving cities.

In this strange steampunk future, Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) is a mysterious, masked teenage girl with a deadly vendetta against one of the leaders of  London, Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving). After her assassination attempt is thwarted she finds herself unwillingly teamed up with Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) a former historian and wannabe pilot. Together they form an unlikely relationship as they seek to discover a way back to London and prevent Valentine’s ambitious attempts to bring war back into the world.

Mortal Engines borrows much from tried and tested formula in this genre. A female protagonist with the key to saving the future: check. Love triangle with former enemies: check. Death of a loved one: check. An evil government that segregates the community in a class structure: check. What sets Mortal Engines apart, however, is how much it liberally borrows from Star Wars in both action scenes and plot twists. Any viewer with even a passing knowledge of Hunger Games or Star Wars will find the resemblance uncannily familiar. 

Buried in the midst of this tale is a message of the brutal cost of war and the need for community, friendship and peace instead of ruthless ambition. Mortal Engines derives its name from a line in Shakespeare’s Othello and refers to the finite nature of a system based on conflictWith these lofty ideals and such a beautifully rendered world, it is just a shame that the characters driving this story aren’t quite up to the task of steering an engine of this size.