A thousand years after civilization was destroyed by a cataclysmic event, a mysterious young woman, Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), sets out to stop London — now a giant, predator city on wheels — from devouring everything in its path. So begins Peter Jackson’s take on Philip Reeves, 2001 dystopian young adult novel.
Directed by Christian Rivers, who’s known for his FX work (mostly on Peter Jackson’s previous films), and co-written by Jackson, Philipa Boyens, and Fran Walsh, Mortal Engines is a sprawling, messy film, that tries too hard be everything except Mortal Engines. The result isn’t the total turkey that initial reviews would have you believe. It looks glorious—with nods to 2000 AD and Star Wars in equal measure. The pace is fast and furious, with lots of action to keep things moving along. And Anna Fang (Jihae) gives every young girl a kick-ass role model for the ages.
But, and it’s a big but… there’s a feel of something horribly dated about the whole affair. Perhaps its the fact that Valentine (Hugo Weaving) is yet another bad guy whose only reason for doing wrong seems to be that he’s been raised above his ‘proper’ station in life. Perhaps it’s the over-emphasis on Hester’s appearance—and the speed with which she becomes an adjunct to Tom (Robert Sheehan). Perhaps it’s just that, in a post-Brexit world, the idea of London as a predator city trying to dominate Europe is just too close to the bone. Or perhaps Mortal Engines has just come too late to the party. What was a wonderfully innovative book 17 years ago has turned into a steampunk Star Wars, with nothing new to show us.