Top critical review
Visually Stunning But Lacking A Compelling Story
19 December 2018
Peter Jackson’s new film Mortal Engines should be a massive blockbuster hit. From the awe-inspiring visuals to the impressive world building, Mortal Engines paints a realistic bleak future and fills it with steampunk mechanisms. The concept is certainly original and props to Wingnut Films for managing to bring this to life in a realistic manner. Unfortunately the characters and story fail to follow suit. With a simple revenge plot at the heart of this film, little to no explanation for a lot of the concepts on display and forgettable characters, Mortal Engines is one of this year’s biggest disappointments, squandering what promising potential it held early on.
The story begins years after civilisation has all but been destroyed following a cataclysmic event. Nature has reclaimed much of the world and in its place, giant cities on wheels roam the world, devouring smaller towns to survive. London dwarfs over many other cities, roaming the lush world in search of its next metallic meal. Within the confines of this city sits charismatic leader Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving) and his daughter Katherine (Leila George).
When a mysterious assassin fails in her mission to take the life of Thaddeus, Tom (Robert Sheehan), one of the city’s brightest prospects, winds up entangled in a conspiracy that threatens the lives of hundreds of people. What follows is a journey that sees Tom and the assassin Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) join forces to stop a catastrophic event from taking place.
Along the way we see numerous different locations around the world, with visually delightful steampunk and gorgeous establishing shots showing off the beauty in this bleak future. If there’s one film this year that shows off the pure majesty of the theatrical experience, it’s Mortal Engines. Visually the film is one of the best released in quite some time and the sheer level of detail and artistry put into much of the CGI makes this an incredible experience.
Enhancing this is the soundtrack which is up there with one of the best in any film this year. Numerous orchestral bites of music really add to the authenticity of the world and there’s some amazing tracks here, accentuating the action. While this was never going to reach the lofty heights of Lord Of The Rings, I’m a really sucker for a good film soundtrack and Mortal Engines backs up its gorgeous visuals with an equally impressive audio experience.
While Mortal Engines has numerous issues with its structure, story and overarching plot, the biggest problem comes from its host of characters inhabiting this world. While there’s a good range of people from all different walks of life here, there just isn’t a whole lot to get excited about. Hester Shaw is the most interesting character but some of her character development is questionable at best. It doesn’t help that Tom fails to really inspire anything beyond mild annoyance at his inclusion in the tale as well.
There’s a really strange, shoe-horned romance angle implemented here too and it comes completely out of the blue. It feels very messy and there’s little to suggest there’s love blossoming between the two characters in question. It really takes the wind out of the sails late on during the film’s final act which suffers from a somewhat toothless resolution to the conflict. The rest of the supporting cast do okay but they really feel like set dressing and don’t contribute a whole lot to the narrative. Even the main antagonist of the film lacks the necessary ingredients to make them a compelling foe and it all feels very empty and lifeless, which is a real shame.
If there’s one film this year that’s likely to divide opinion among fans and critics – it’s going to be Mortal Engines. The film has a lot of potential and visually, it’ll be difficult for another film to compete with this one. The epic soundtrack and amazing world building make Mortal Engines one of the best cinema experiences in quite some time and for that alone it’s easy to recommend this to fantasy enthusiasts. Unfortunately the film squanders this amazing backdrop with a formulaic story and lacklustre characters that fail to back up the promising design of the world. It’s a shame and I really wanted to love this film, especially after the first 15 minutes, but sadly Mortal Engines is more miss than hit making it a difficult pill to swallow.