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article imageReview: ‘Mortal Engines’ steamrolls audiences with its banality Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Dec 14, 2018 in Entertainment
‘Mortal Engines’ squanders away its potential by getting caught up in the minutiae of a story that would’ve played better without the trivial details.
Steampunk is a fascinating subculture that centres on the convergence of early mechanics and science fiction. Existing in worlds that either are based in or have devolved to the past, these societies are simultaneously progressive and backwards. The machines they control are often awe-inspiring, but civilization has taken several steps back towards the dark ages and pre-connectivity. Still, deep, rich colours occupy the frame and devotion or knowledge of the “old ways” absorbs the characters’ time as they hope to better understand their unsophisticated ancestors. Mortal Engines is based in this world, but someone is combing the past for a more dangerous purpose.
Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) lives on a mobile London as almost all cities now exist on wheels, moving over connected land masses in search of sparse resources. He works at a museum dedicated to relics of the past, where he encounters fellow history buff, Katherine Valentine (Leila George). Her father, Thaddeus (Hugo Weaving), is head of a secret project expected to save their scarcely surviving city. When Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) infiltrates London, she exposes a secret Thaddeus does everything to sweep back under the rug. Expelled from the metropolis, Hester shows Tom the world beyond the safety of his home.
Young adult fiction typically weaves fantastical tales with young people at its centre and an adult at the helm of a potential disaster. The problem with this genre is what works in writing doesn’t always translate well to film adaptations. Seeing their epic settings on the screen — particularly the giant machines in motion — is impressive, but the desire to be faithful to the narrative often results in drawn out stories that bores all except the devoted fan. The minute details that give the written word realism and vibrancy can seem clunky and superfluous in the big-screen version. When the world is burning and time is of the essence, someone stopping to admire a rack of jackets before choosing the perfect one seems… impractical. It also says a lot when the most compelling characters are in supporting roles, such as Anna Fang (Jihae) and her kickass fighting skills, and Shrike’s (Stephen Lang) otherworldly, intimidating presence.
With Peter Jackson and members of the production team from the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film series working behind the scenes, this movie had potential. Visually, it delivers on that promise as the unique mobile cities are undeniably striking, from the giant metropolis housing thousands to the smaller nomadic markets to the insect-like vehicle built for two. They also take to the air with makeshift planes and floating safe havens. But at 128 minutes, there’s too much wasted time. If it was tighter and focused on hitting the (obvious) beats to propel the story forward, it’d be a much-improved picture. But as it stands, it dilly-dallies through an already predictable narrative to deliver an awkwardly worded and underwhelming conclusion.
Director: Christian Rivers
Starring: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan and Hugo Weaving
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