Mortal Engines (2018)

Christian Rivers directs Hera Hilmar, Hugo Weaving and Stephen Lang in this post apocalyptic adventure which imagines an Earth where people live on motorised, moving cities that cannibalise each other.

Mortal Engines is a blockbuster with many problems but one that I quite enjoyed almost inspite of itself. It blows its load early with a gargantuan chase sequence where hulking London tracks and harpoons a smaller township and swallows it whole. This thrilling 15 minutes is what I bought a ticket for. It delivers but then the concept is never particularly revisited. Why would’t we have a sequence where a smaller habitat manages to out run, outsmart or best the behemoth? A missed opportunity. Instead we get a Romancing the Stone / The 39 Steps odd couple (her – good but underwritten, him – annoying and given too much screentime) traversing the wasteland, trying to stop a conspiracy and defeat the villian. The villian is Hugo Weaving, and while again we aren’t seeing him in his best written role ever, watching Weaving play the heel is one of 21st century’s cinema’s surest things. We get a bonus baddie in Stephen Lang’s Shrike; an undead terminator-like tracking cyborg. His backstory and relation to our lead is the film’s most emotionally resonant mystery. For the half an hour when his palpable threat is the focus, the story comes to life and the pleasing Hera Hilmar proves her ability to carry such a monstrously sized production. Ultimately the production values make this. The Gilliam-esque cities, costume design and the flying machines dazzle the eyes. Frustratingly with all these strong elements the final act gives up on being anything special or satisfying and just apes the finale of A New Hope. Now that ain’t a terrible way to end a movie but Mortal Engines is such mixed bag we really need a distinctively spectacular set piece rather than a “Will This Do?” stop gap. A missed opportunity, difficult to recommend, but I can see myself revisiting it for the steampunk eye candy.

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