More in-depth film festival coverage than any other website!
Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About 

Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.11%
Worth A Look: 22.22%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 3 user ratings

Latest Reviews

Scandalous: The True Story of the National Enquirer by Rob Gonsalves

Paradise Hills by Rob Gonsalves

3 from Hell by Rob Gonsalves

Dolemite Is My Name by Rob Gonsalves

My Dear Liar by Jay Seaver

Truth, The (2019) by Jay Seaver

Primal (2019) by Peter Sobczynski

Last Christmas by Peter Sobczynski

Midway (2019) by Peter Sobczynski

Wild Goose Lake, The by Jay Seaver

subscribe to this feed

Mortal Engines
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Jay Seaver

"Would really be something if everyone did as good as job as the FX crew."
3 stars

Though the work of everyone else involved in the movie, from writers to cast, should not be diminished, the best reason "Mortal Engines" exists is that WETA Workshop got to build a bunch of crazy steampunk material, whether on set, as miniatures, or digitally. Traditionally, critics are supposed to say that this sort of thing is supposed to be in service to the rest of the story, but WETA is arguably better at this sort of thing than anybody else in the world, so why not build a movie as a showcase for what they do really well? It's an approach that leads to terrific, larger-than-life images on screen, even if the rest of the movie often doesn't serve the effects team as well as they could.

Without a doubt, the greatest creation is London, which in the 32nd Century is a "Predator City", mounted on treads and voyaging across a ruined world, ingesting other cities and breaking them down to consume their resources. Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) has been waiting for an opportunity like this, eager for the opportunity for revenge on Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), who killed her archaeologist mother when Hester was eight years old. Unfortunately for her, young historian Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) spots her dagger while trying to salvage pre-apocalyptic technology from the Bavarian mining city she arrived in, and both wind up falling off the city, watching it crawl away across the wasteland. That's not a great situation even without Thaddeus setting cyborg monster Shrike (Stephen Lang) after them and with a new ally in Anna Fang (Jihae Kim); back in London, Valentine's daughter Katherine (Leila George) starts to suspect that her father is hiding something about Tom's disappearance and the mysterious project going on in St. Paul's Cathedral.

This story is ridiculous, of course, but there are different types of preposterous that are more or less forgivable. For example, yes, the predator cities are absurd, but so what? They look delightful and more realistic versions might not be worth a $20 movie ticket. And while they may be impossible bits of engineering, there is something fiercely clever about London belching black smoke and crawling across the world, trying to take the resources of India and China (which are a little bit more prepared this time). What doesn't work is how the film is by and large stitched together by coincidence rather than Hester, Tom, and the rest actually doing much of anything until the end, with characters appearing and vanishing completely as needed, and things moving fast enough that it's easy to miss how a character's destruction comes about via a Rube Goldberg series of events that he starts, burying the hubris of it.

All of that is carried out by characters who were probably more interesting in the original book, but who are kind of the director's action figures here. Nobody in the cast is bad at all - Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Leila George, Jihae Kim (and eventually Regé-Jean Page, Menik Gooneratne, Frankie Adams, and others) make for a good youthful group that add a bit of personality to all the running around, but they don't get a lot of chances to slow down and react. It's an epic that at one point hinges on its romance in a time span that maybe gives three days from first meeting to finish, and Hilmar and Sheehan don't have the room to get Hester and Tom to the point where the audience can feel a strong bond. The most emotional scene in many ways gets its power from Shirke's complete lack of expression - it's the moment where director Christian Rivers harnesses Lang's tormented voice, the relentless action, and the script's flashback tendencies to really have an impact. It's such a good but weird and twisted subplot as to make the audience wonder what could have been with the rest. Maybe having Lang and Hugo Weaving switch roles might have helped - Weaving seems to come up short of the true-believer madness Thaddeus needs.

For all of its shortcomings in other areas, the movie never lets down on a "look at this thing" level. Executive producer and co-writer Peter Jackson (working with usual partners Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens from a book by Philip Reeve) has always been conscious of how impressive design counts just as much as photorealistic perfection in making a fantasy memorable, and the team he puts at Rivers's disposal handles both ends well, from steampunk design to the thrill of horror in the digital rendering of a doomsday weapon's effects. It's a downright great IMAX 3D movie (shame something else looking so good cut its screening count down) that never lets up but only feels a little frantic in its pacing. It's got a number of delightfully creative bits of action, my favorite coming as Shrike throws his not-inconsiderable mass and strength around in a very fragile environment, while there's also a nice <I>Star Wars</I> feel when things take to the air after so much time in massive cities and the deep tracks they leave. A nifty score by Tom Holkenborg emphasizes the right amount of intensity and high adventure in each scene.

"Mortal Engines" has real issues, and that it's easier to talk about words and performance than design and craft can make it easier to focus on the film's weaknesses than its strengths. Still, this might be the most enjoyably nuts bit of world-building and visual effects done in live-action since "Gods of Egypt" if not "Sky Captain". That's not enough for everyone or frequent re-watches, but it's a reason to go to the place with the big screen to see it.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 12/15/18 10:49:18
[printer] printer-friendly format  

User Comments

7/07/19 Dr. Lao No idea why this wasn't a hit, much better than Snowpiercer 4 stars
12/25/18 Bob Dog Crackin' good sci-fi adventure movie - they don't make 'em like this anymore! 4 stars
12/16/18 Alfred Hitch-twat A stunning masterpiece of special effects magnificence. 5 stars
Note: Duplicate, 'planted,' or other obviously improper comments
will be deleted at our discretion. So don't bother posting 'em. Thanks!
Your Name:
Your Comments:
Your Location: (state/province/country)
Your Rating:

Discuss this movie in our forum

  14-Dec-2018 (PG-13)
  DVD: 12-Mar-2019


  DVD: 12-Mar-2019

Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About Australia's Largest Movie Review Database.
Privacy Policy | HBS Inc. | |   

All data and site design copyright 1997-2017, HBS Entertainment, Inc.
Search for
reviews features movie title writer/director/cast