Mortal Engines is a steampunk sci-fi saga that certainly hits the ground running, hurtling viewers into a well-established dystopian future. The world’s been wrecked by the “60-minute war”, some places are “static settlements” others “traction cites”. The biggest and baddest of these slow-moving predators is the city of London (or at least an amalgam of some of its must-see landmarks, mounted on tank treads 200 ft high), gleefully consuming smaller, slower communities while scavenging for supplies and (pre-digital) low tech.
We are introduced to a myriad of characters, most notably London big wig Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), who shifts from charmingly charismatic to hatefully homicidal early on and with ease; his loving daughter, Katherine (Leila George, a rising star and real-life daughter of actors Vincent D’Onofrio and Greta Scacchi); Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), an apprentice historian, hapless hero and would-be aviator whose life considerably alters course when it merges with the film’s female lead, the resilient, revenge-driven fugitive Hester Shaw (Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar of The Quiet Storm, who delivers, at times, a truly touching performance).
After stabbing but failing to assassinate Thaddeus “for her mum”, Hester and new sidekick Tom are thrown into a “must save what’s left of the earth” adventure romp, whilst keeping one step ahead of resurrected pursuer Shrike (voiced by Avatar‘s Stephen Lang), who is fuelled by his own desire for revenge against Hester.
As this film powers towards its paint-by-numbers conclusion, the central duo is helped by some new pals and, helmed by most-wanted flying badass Anna Fang (Korean music star Jihae), their rebellion sets off to thwart the evil plans of Valentine and his empire – this story does pay some serious homage to a galaxy far, far away.
Adapted from Philip Reeve’s young-adult novel by producer and co-writer Peter Jackson (and longtime collaborators Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens), Mortal Engines is competently directed by Christian Rivers. An entertainingly visual feast with its quirky steampunk style, topical pop culture references and some unexpected laugh-out-loud moments, the film sadly never quite manages to engage the heart or hit top gear.
Mortal Engines is released nationwide on 14th December 2018.
Watch the trailer for Mortal Engines here: