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MOVIES: Mortal Engines - Review



Mortal Engines is a welcome surprise. Yes, it may be hugely derivative, feeling like what would happen if someone put Mad Max: Fury Road, Howl's Moving Castle, Star Wars, The Maze Runner and more into a blender, but it never fails to be an entertaining spectacle. The set-pieces are epic and awe-inspiring, and it's easy to see why someone like Peter Jackson is attached to produce, and it's no surprise when you learn that Mad Max: Fury Road's composer Junkie XL delivers an appropriately bombastic score. Directing duties fall to Christian Rivers who does a mostly competent job in his first major Hollywood movie, and sells you on this richly developed world that is the biggest draw of the film, which borrows from its YA source material from author Phillip Reeve (whether we'll be getting any sequels like the novels however, is extremely doubtful, but at least this is the rare YA novel adaption that stands on its own rather than existing to set up sequels).

If you're a fan of steampunk or post apocalyptic fiction then you're going to eat this one up, because of course we quickly find out in a Mad Max-style intro that the world has long since been destroyed and now giant predator cities roam the wastelands of what's left behind, crushing everything in its wake.

It is here that we meet London, one of the biggest and most infamous cities of them all. The landmarks such as St. Paul's Cathedral are still there, but it has been bastardised and adapted into a moving, hungry city that eats all in its path. The Traction City is an unstoppable force that is only about to get stronger, and nothing can stand in its way. Enter Hester Shaw, a scarred, ass-kicking born survivor played by Hera Hilmar. She's out for revenge, and her number one target is Hugo Weaving's sinister Thaddeus Valentine, who murdered her mother in an interest of self-survival. Valentine has a commanding grip over London and his presence is felt everywhere. You can tell that Hugo Weaving had fun playing the role as he hams it up to the extreme. Hester's one-woman mission to take him down finds herself caught unwittingly in the company of the young, clueless museum assistant Tom Natsworthy (played by Robert Sheehan, because presumably they couldn't get Dylan O'Brien), who is pushed off London by Valentine after learning too much about the more sinister past that he wants to keep secret. Together, Tom and Hester have to find a way to stop London.

There is a lot to take in in Mortal Engines and it moves at a non-stop pace. Its action sequences are where it shines the most, with some entertaining giant city-chase sequences that simply demand to be seen on the big screen. The visual spectacle is the biggest selling point of the film, as we are plunged from one set-piece to another in a grand style. But when the film does slow down to flesh out its characters it falls victim to cliche after cliche, with scarcely no original story among them to tell. There's a plot point that feels ripped straight out of Star Wars, and Tom in particular feels like the most generic young adult protagonist ever. But he is not really the main character, and the story wisely puts him in the John Watson role to Hester's Sherlock Holmes, allowing Hester to drive the plot forward and do much of the heavy lifting. Hilmar does a good job at portraying the character, and makes her a compelling lead. It's a shame that the material she was given is far too cliched to establish her as anything more than just okay.

Jihae's badass Anna Fang is easily the best character in this film, and steals every scene that she's in. Both she and Weaving know exactly what sort of film they're in and as a result it's enjoyable to watch their roles, especially when they come face to face in the film's climax. A special mention must also be given to Stephen Lang's Shrike, a robotic creature who shares a mysterious past with Hester, as Lang too, makes the most out of his material.

There is a surprising amount of product placement in this movie considering that it is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth. If you were hoping to avoid Minions then think again, this movie has them in one of its biggest surprises, with the London Museum mistaking them for deities of Old Earth. The film is at its funniest when it pokes fun at the characters failing to understand items that the humans of 2018 would take into account, but it is mostly too serious to become entirely self aware and too devoid of a personality to stand out.

The plot is the weakest part of Mortal Engines and its script feels like it would have served it better had it come out a few years ago during the dystopian craze that gave us The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner and Divergent. It is no Hunger Games but it is about on par with the first Maze Runner, standing some way above the Divergent franchise in terms of its genre. Its main strength is the sheer spectacle of its world and the concept that it makes the most out of, and whilst it may not be the best young adult book adaption of 2018 (The Hate U Give gets that honour) it is still an enjoyable experience, albeit a completely forgettable one.

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