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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: Timing is everything for "Mortal Engines"

Dec 13, 2018 04:29PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Hera Hilmar and Jihae in Mortal Engines - © 2018 Universal.

Mortal Engines (Universal)

Rated PG-13 for sequences of futuristic violence and action.

Starring Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Leila George, Ronan Raftery, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang (voice), Colin Salmon, Mark Mitchinson, Regé-Jean Page, Menik Gooneratne, Mark Hadlow, Poppy MacLeod, Kee Chan, Sophie Cox, Caren Pistorius, Leifur Sigurdarson, Aaron Jackson, Stephen Ure, Andrew Lees.

Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson, based on "Mortal Engines" by Philip Reeve.

Directed by Christian Rivers.



It used to be that movies with multimillion-dollar budgets were an option we’d experience a few times a year. Now, that’s just a normal weekend. Having a “normal” weekend can be the kiss of death for a movie with the ambition of Mortal Engines, the product of Peter Jackson’s New Zealander movie team (same folks who brought us the Lord of Rings and Hobbit franchises). Epic scenes and cool special effects may not be enough to get audiences in the theaters these days, making Mortal Engines prime for disappointment.

It’s the story of Hester Shaw, the scarred and orphaned daughter of an archeologist thousands of years into the future, where mobilized “predator cities” roam the altered landscape of Earth following an Apocalyptic war. The cities move on giant belted tractor vehicles, with the larger ones preying on the smaller ones, assimilating their people and resources to survive. One such “super predator” is London, helmed by the ambitious Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving). When Hester is scooped up during one of London’s hunts, she immediately sets out to kill Valentine, only to be thwarted by Tom (Robert Sheehan) a young apprentice historian who is friends with Valentine’s daughter Katherine (Leila George). When her assassination attempt fails, Hester tells Tom about Valentine’s treachery and they are both dropped in the wasteland. The pair is eventually rescued by Anna Fang (Jihae), a resistance pilot and leader of the resistance fighting against Valentine. Meanwhile, Valentine unleashes a killer cyborg named Shrike (voiced by Stephen Lang) to search out and kill Hester. Anna, Hester, Tom and the rest of the rebels eventually mount an attack on London with a small band of fighter planes, just as Valentine unleashes a super weapon on the eastern Shield Wall that separates the predator cities from the peaceful non-predator folk of the world.  A great battle ensues with great casualties.

So, if any of these story elements sound familiar, it’s because they probably are, especially the end battle scene that resembles the first Death Star attack in Star Wars (A New Hope). There are plenty of other derivatives to examine in Mortal Engines, from the ‘guess who’s your daddy’ moment to the reverence given to ‘eastern’ spiritual wisdom to the ‘rich folk get their comeuppance.’

But behind all that stuff you’ve seen before, there are interesting characters, some incredible epic special effects, and a quirky production design that resembles the “Steampunk” science fiction subgenre. These pleasing elements make up for the faults of the weak and borrowed story, leaving Mortal Engines as a worthy option for your secondary choice at the theaters this holiday season. I do worry that Mortal Engines may flop, judging by the hype surrounding Mary Poppins Returns and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, both of which should dominate the box office on the same weekend. That’s too bad since Mortal Engines is so much better than so many other run-of-the-mill young-adult teen dystopia film adaptations. Timing is everything, they say.   

Mortal Engines Trailer