Mortal Engines Lacks The Needed Combustion

Hera Hilmar as Hester Shaw in "Mortal Engines." The film is directed by Christian Rivers, and written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson based on the novel by Philip Reeve.

Mortal Engines forgot to fuel up somewhere because this film takes us all over the place to the point that we’re not even sure what just happened.

A quantum energy weapon took humanity to the brink of extinction in what is known as the Sixty Minute War.  All that remains are the predator cities and static settlements.  If this is our future, we need to come together to prevent it from ever happening.  There’s not even any kind of environmental message here.  It’s the basic good vs. evil film minus the obvious setting in space.  There’s so many aspects of this film that are clearly ripoffs of Star Wars.  The sad thing is that Mortal Engines doesn’t even appear to be dumb mindless fun.  Or even dumb fun for that matter.  Somewhere down the line, Minions become American deities.  Oh, the agony!

What we do know is that the London Wheelhouse is under the command of former archaeologist Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving).  He may have acted like Indiana Jones back in the day but as things stand, the guy has a lust for power.  Set some 1600 years into the future, the film hearkens back to the days of the Roman and British Empires.  Hell, Magnus Crome (Patrick Malahide), the Lord Mayor of London, could very well be the king.  I say this because the London Wheelhouse will plow down whatever is in its path, including the mining settlement at the start of the film.  Europe is essentially the Great Hunting Ground.  In plowing down, they ingest whatever they can and salvage whatever old tech is found.  With the way the ingestion takes place, the Wheelhouse could very well be the Death Star.

While Valentine lusts for more power, Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) manages to make her way into London.  They have history with his being responsible for the death of her mother, Pandora (Caren Pistorius).  So what happens?  Aviator wannabe Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) happens.  He’s the guy who stops Hester only to find himself out of a job when Valentine gets rid of anyone who gets in the way.  He has one goal in site and that’s to get MEDUSA up and running.  With Pandora’s box now unleashed, Tom has to team up with her as a means of survival.  All the while, Anti-Tractionist Anna Fang (Jihae) and Terminator-wannabe Shrike (Stephen Lang) lurk in the distance.

At one point, you can’t help but wonder if they’re gonna go the route of YA novels.  I say this because Tom is close with Valentine’s daughter, Katherine (Leila George), before growing close to Hester.  Katherine gets her moments to shine with the aid of lowly engineer Bevis Pod (Ronan Rafferty) but Mortal Engines is very much the Tom and Hester show.  Hilmar and Sheehan handle the chemistry quite well.  One would like to see what they can do in future projects together but with better material.

The film speaks to the concept of Municipal Darwinism.  Valentine believes that the Lord Mayor of London is still living in the past.  There’s a whole system in which the cities ingest the smaller cities and so forth.  But what happens when there’s no smaller cities left?

And yes, it does get political with a dig at the Trump Administration.  As a mining tow gets ingested and passengers are taken aboard and scanned for a weapons, a voice booms on the speaker to inform us “children may be temporarily separated from parents.”

“Hester, I am your father.”

“You’re all clear, kid. Now let’s blow this thing and go home!”

These lines are not in the movie but they very well could be.  How could a film co-written by Peter Jackson blatantly rip off Star Wars so badly.  Here’s how close Thaddeus Valentine gets to telling Hester Shaw that he’s her father.  He holds out his hand!  It’s as if Valentine was Darth Vader minus the mask!  With no Force, Yoda, or Obi-Wan Kenobi, we’ll never truly know unless Hester searches her feelings.  There’s Cloud City–I mean, Airhaven and the city is supposed to be neutral.

This film as a whole is so laughable.  Even when they point out that Twinkies are indestructible over a millennium and a half past their expiration date of 2118.  This is how far into the future in which Mortal Engines takes place.  But judging by the technology, you wouldn’t know this.  It’s a dystopian future but the technology feels more like its the industrial era as predator cities roll across continents.

Some books translate into great films while others translate poorly.  While Mortal Engines may be ambitious in scope, it doesn’t quite translate on film.

DIRECTOR:  Christian Rivers
SCREENWRITERS:  Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson
CAST:  Hugo Weaving, Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, and Stephen Lang

Universal Pictures opens Mortal Engines in theaters on December 14, 2018.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.