Based on the book by Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines is set in a post-apocalyptic future where in order to survive, whole towns and cities are on wheels, roaming the Earth looking for fuel. Smaller towns are on the constant lookout for predator cities, London being the biggest and deadliest of them all. If a town gets caught, the predator city ingests it and strips it for parts.
What you need from a whole new fantasy film, especially one where not everyone will have read the source material, is to be instantly immersed into this world – Mortal Engines succeeds in this. Opening with a thrilling chase as London pursues and eventually captures a small town, you’re seamlessly introduced its world, how these towns work, and how its people live. Unbeknownst to London’s hero Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), on their newly acquired fuel source is Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) a young woman who is hell-bent on revenge for her mother’s murder. After Hester’s attempt to kill Valentine fails, she, along with historian Tom (Robert Sheehan) who had naively tried to help Valentine, are flung from the city and are forced to fend for themselves.
While there are big fights, explosions, and aerial spectacles, it’s Hester and Tom slowly learning to trust and care for one another that’s at the heart of this film. Sheehan’s natural charisma shines through, and his chemistry with Hilmar makes Tom and Hester’s relationship surprisingly sweet. They’re like an odd couple, Tom is friendly and enthused about ancient technology, while Hester is wary and untrusting. Having there be no big-name actors as the heroes, means there is a real sense of peril for these characters as you soon realise anyone might not make it.
The set design and special effects are incredible, these towns and cities feel like living creatures and they each have their own unique style. The same thing can be said for the various flying aircraft as well. The costumes and props flesh out this futuristic world that’s simultaneously old-fashioned with their love of books and need for coal, but also modern with their guns and planes. It’s like steam-punk mixed with sci-fi, making Mortal Engines a world of its own.
Some subplots aren’t that great and never really reach their potential, one in particular concerns Valentine’s daughter (Leila George) and her unlikely ally. They are both interesting characters but once they’ve discovered enough so the audience is aware of what’s happening, they disappear and there’s no real conclusion to their arcs.
Mortal Engines is an action-packed, fun adventure about outlaws attempting to save the world from a greedy capitalist. What more could you want?
Directed by: Christian Rivers
Starring: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae