Lacking Compelling History | Review of ‘Mortal Engines’ (film)

By Cynthia Bujnicki

Mortal Engines starring Hugo Weaving, Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahidev & Stephen Lang
Image Credit: Universal Pictures

“In a post-apocalyptic world where cities ride on wheels and consume each other to survive, two people meet in London and try to stop a conspiracy.” —IMDB

Mortal Engines is a dystopic steampunk adventure that suffers by giving no history to the film.

Now that’s not to say that the film was terrible. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I can understand why it’s not a hit.

Taking place in a dystopic future, the film centers around cities and settlements built on giant engines. These are mobile cities that roam the earth for resources taking them where they can. However, the question remains, how did they get there. Even with science fiction films, the audience needs to be able to believe and be able to grasp in this future. However, viewers can’t there; there’s no history to the film, a glimpse at a powerful weapon that not only destroyed cities but altered the earth’s crust as well. However, that’s it, that’s all the audiences get, no other explanations as to how civilization thought to evolve in the way that it did, nothing to attach the science fiction to the realm of reality. Yes, movies are for enjoyment, and yes, science fiction is called science fiction for a reason, but for a film to try to appeal to the masses, many of whom like action but not so much science fiction, you have to present a backstory to ground the audience in the reality of the film. The audience has to want to care about their situations, about where they came from and what they are trying to avoid.

That is what the film is lacking. Sure, it has a phenomenal cast and brilliant special effects, but those aren’t enough for the masses. The CGI was amazing, so realistic and at the time so beautiful, while the chemistry and backstory of the films were present and strong enough to make the audience care about the characters and their relationships, But it’s not enough for this film to make it. Action aside, while the film has memorable characters who make the audience feel for them, the overall conflict of the film lacks history. It’s almost as if Peter Jackson expected everyone to have read the book before seeing this movie. I’m an avid reader as many of you followers know, but even I had never heard of this novel, and my husband who mainly reads science fiction or my mother had never heard of this novel. Sure, it has made us all eager to pick it up now (FYI it is available on Scribd as an audiobook) but only because we want to know more about this world.

Ultimately the story is just lacking here, which is it’s the biggest fault. It may be a Peter Jackson film and may stay true to the novel, but Jackson’s name doesn’t have the same pull it once did, and Mortal Engines does not have the same notoriety as Lord of the Rings. There’s no denying that there is an audience for this film, but the execution was just not well thought-out. (★★☆☆ | C+)

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—Film Credits—

Directed by Christian Rivers

Screenplay by    Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson

Based on Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

Starring: Hugo Weaving, Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahidev & Stephen Lang

Rating | Length | Genre: PG-13 | 2h 8min | ActionAdventureFantasy

Distributed by Universal Pictures

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