“Mortal Engines” (2018)
Running Time: 128 minutes
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson
Directed by: Christian Rivers
Featuring: Hugo Weaving, Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide and Stephen Lang
Chudleigh Pomeroy:“Sixty minutes is all it took to bring humanity to the very brink of extinction. Mankind mobilized, a new age arose. The Age of the Great Predator Cities. Survival of the Fastest.”
This month heralded the release of the latest young adult (YA) adaptation into cinemas, that being the box offie bomb “Mortal Engines” (2018). Unfortunately this movie was not a critical success either it was about as routine as they get as far as plot and narrative go, however this movie also had the audacity to not only riff on just about every other YA adaptation that has ever existed, but to also take a big leaf out of so many other genre films as to be embarrassing for anyone involved in this misguided adventure. It has become apparent lately, with so many terrible YA adaptions how limiting many of these adaptions can be as well as how much audiences have had enough, staying away in droves. There is no doubt that the nadir of YA adaptations is “The Hunger Games” (2011-2014) which was not only a behemoth at the box office but was also embraced (mostly) by critics and helped launch the career of Jennifer Lawrence as well as cementing a career for director Francis Lawrence, the low point although not definitively was the cheap imitation, the “Divergent” (2014-present) which devolved so quickly over its instalments that the studio all but gave up on the final one, with audiences being apathetic about its fate, there is no outcry for the final instalment from anyone. Where “Mortal Engines” fits is questionable, but it was an abject misfire, so it fits somewhere near the bottom of the heap, which considering its pedigree is not surprising at all. Not only was it uninspired but its plot and narrative were paint by numbers to such an extent that any possible originality was sucked out by the poor acting, formulaic screenplay as well as directing that was more B level than something that begged to be seen on the big screen. In fact this may have been better as a television adaption except that even now there are far too many similar themed shows on a variety of platforms with more engaging characters, better special effects and a plot that makes sense with fewer red herrings than it should have to keep audiences interested. Its never easy being at the end of anything so this movie comes at the end of a long movement of YA movies that have for the most part been failures, I am not sure what the production company was thinking as to why this would be any different, it may have been the modest budget, but this movie will definitely not make its money back.
This is an adaption from a series of novels by Philip Reeve, the first having been published in 2001, to be honest if this movie had been released then it may have fared better, as it would, at least, seemed to be more original, it being at the beginning of a cycle and not the end. It has been adapted by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson of “The Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” (2001-2014) fame which looking back were overblown affairs themselves, but at least the source material was solid and once again when the first trilogy was released it seemed like something that was original and needed to be seen in cinemas, not on DVD. Unfortunately the three writers really only seem to be one trick ponies with everything else they have been involved in being mostly let downs, however with this new movie they have sunk to new lows. What is really surprising is that this movie is not directed by Peter Jackson, which looking back seems like a big mistake, but it is possible even he knew this was a reductive and unoriginal story so the reigns have been handed to first time director Christian Rivers, who has never been at the helm of anything like “Mortal Engines” before, judging from the results he will not be again. The direction is paint by numbers with little real originality making way for CGI spectacle instead of a real story with so many endless narrative coincidences as to be unbelievable and that’s in a fantasy genre, there are also so many characters that are not only formulaic tropes but are archetypes so familiar as to be ripped out of other stories wholesale. Basically if you have seen pretty much any “Star Wars” (1977-present) movie then you have seen this, except “Mortal Engines” has so much overblown game like CGI as to wonder what was the director thinking of when he made this? I am not a huge fan of giving an untested director hundreds of millions of dollars as the pressure rarely produces good results. If you look at a director like Christopher Nolan, not even he was put in charge of an equivalent movie until five movies into his career, it is hubris to think that Rivers is going to be better than Nolan.
“Mortal Engines” follows a cataclysmic conflict known as the Sixty Minute War, the remnants of humanity regroup and form mobile “predator” cities. Under a philosophy known as “Municipal Darwinism”, larger cities hunt and absorb smaller settlements in the “Great Hunting Ground”, which includes Great Britain and Continental Europe. The city of London captures a small mining town called Salzhaken, absorbing its population and resources, under orders of Lord Mayor Magnus Crome. A masked woman among the Salzhakens is Hester Shaw, who seeks to assassinate Thaddeus Valentine, Head of the Guild of Historians. Tom Natsworthy, a teenage Apprentice Historian, is sent to London’s “Gut” to collect Old-Tech for London’s Museum, accompanied by Valentine’s good-natured daughter Katherine. Hester attempts to kill Valentine but Tom intervenes, pursuing Hester to a waste chute. Hester escapes, but not before telling him that Valentine murdered her mother and scarred her face. When Tom informs Valentine of this, he pushes Tom down the chute.
Is it just me or whenever there is a post-apocalypse story especially a YA adaption almost all the good guys look not only perfect but seem to have a glow about them, so this cast is full of great looking people, dressing snappy and they all seem like they stepped out of a hair salon, maybe some of the writers and directors should watch a real post-apocalyptic movie like “Threads” (1984) to see how the world might really look. The movie has been cast with relative newcomer Hera Hilmar as the main character who does the job I assume she was told to do, so acquits herself in a truly broad role where she has all the answers, as well as the one who seems to be key to this plot, there is even an “Empire Strikes Back” (1980) moment involving her which seemed to be too funny to be true, but then this is that kind of movie. The rest of the movie is filled out with genre actors such as the lost looking and woefully miscast Robert Sheehan who still is unable to find a role that suits his talents, Hugo Weaving who cannot seem to break with Peter Jackson and Stephen Lang almost unrecognisable as a Terminator rip-off who only exists to pass a literal key to the hero to save the day. The rest of the cast are all cyphers and newcomers who will probably survive this as “Mortal Engines” has been such a dud that no one will remember they even appeared in this.
“Mortal Engines” is such a reductive movie I wouldn’t even bother watching it on a streaming service, this is so unoriginal as well as an insult to not only its genre but to the people behind it that the writers and director really owe audiences who paid to see this an apology. It is the worst kind of movie that steals ideas, characters and themes from so many sources as to create a hodge podge of a movie that makes little sense. One of the bewildering parts of this and many other movies set in some fantasy laden post-apocalypse is that everything and everyone looks so good, with technology as well as living environments that look all sparkly, clean and completely disease free, there are no ugly people, no overweight people and no malnourished people either, in fact it looks more like an adventure park than anything else. Oh wait I get it this movie was a two-hour plus advert for a theme park, I get it now! The only saving grace is that nobodies Mothers name was Martha.