Review: Mortal Engines (2018)

Mortal Engines (2018)

Directed by: Christian Rivers | 128 minutes | action, adventure | Actors: Hera Hilmar, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Robert Sheehan, Stephen Lang, Leila George, Frankie Adams, Caren Pistorius, Andrew Lees, Colin Salmon, Ronan Raftery, Joel Tobeck, Patrick Malahide, Sarah Munn, Nathaniel Lees, Stephen Ure, Yoson An, Calum Gittins, Menik Gooneratne, Regé-Jean Page

In ‘Mortal Engines’, so-called predatory cities, inhabited by the last remnants of humanity, travel through a largely deserted Europe to cannibalize other, smaller cities. For the gigantic moving structures, built by human hands on the foundations of old world cities, it is the only way to remain viable. Wars have put an end to all classical energy supplies. By conquering other cities, at least the required resources can be obtained to survive, for the time being.

The idea of ​​living cities that can only survive through some kind of all-consuming gentrification has potential. The relationship between man and machine, the loss of our sovereignty and the lost contact with nature. They are all themes with the necessary current relevance. In ‘Mortal Engines’, however, very little is done with this, because the film goes completely for the Blockbuster experience.

Visual spectacle and a simple plot: in short, that is the trump card that ‘Mortal Engines’ plays. At first sight there is not much wrong with that, provided the implementation is in order. However, the film, directed by debutant and Peter Jackson adept Christian Rivers, falls short on both counts. ‘Mortal Engines’ is certainly not an ugly film. The decors are beautiful and invite you to look further. But the viewer doesn’t get much time for that. The pace is usually high. Hectic camera movements, abrupt accelerations and a fidgety game with focus end up being more distracting than they are capable of enchanting. At the rare moments when the film slows down, that space is there. But too often it is looking for some footing. Like a roller coaster that goes on incessantly.

Also regarding the plot ‘Mortal Engines’ makes a mess of it. In the first fifteen minutes of the film alone, roughly seven characters are introduced without making it clear who is important and who is not. This results in all those characters staying at an appropriate distance. If over time the true protagonists do make themselves known, it is not accompanied by any attempt at character development or emotional involvement. Individually, there is hardly any depth. A childhood trauma here, a quest for power there; there is nothing more to it than that. In fact, most actions are purely coincidental. Due to the lack of character motivations and logic, every necessity is suppressed. As a result, the gap between character and spectator that arose in the opening is never closed again. The result is indifference.

The fact that the denouement of ‘Mortal Engines’ seems to have been copied straight from the original Star Wars trilogy (more than thirty years old) doesn’t make things any better. For a film that had an estimated $100 million to spend, ‘Mortal Engines’ is unoriginal and captivating. What a waste.

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