Mortal Engines
dir Christian Rivers
scr Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
prd Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Deborah Forte, Amanda Walker, Zane Weiner
with Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae Kim, Leila George, Stephen Lang, Patrick Malahide, Rege-Jean Page, Ronan Raftery, Sarah Peirse, Colin Salmon, Caren Pistorius
release US/UK 8.Dec.18
18/NZ Universal 2h08
Mortal Engines
We're going in: Sheehan, Hilmar and Kim

weaving lang salmon
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Mortal Engines Based on Philip Reeve's acclaimed novel (which sparked three sequels), this is an eye-catching post-apocalyptic action adventure, even if pretty much everything about the movie is derivative. It's never boring thanks to a couple of involving characters and seriously impressive effects work. But the plot is both overcrowded and cliched, and the mashup of other films is almost embarrassing.

Centuries after the civilisation-ending 60-Minute War, survivors consolidate in city states, which they make mobile to search for resources like fuel to power their gigantic roving cities. London is the dominant force, led by the fearsome Thaddeus (Weaving). He's the target of young Hester (Hilmar), who saw him murder her mother (Pistorius). She gets a chance to attack him, but ends up in the wasteland with London historian Tom (Sheehan), and they team up with Anna (Kim) to thwart Thaddeus' plan to crush the Anti-Traction society. But tenacious killer robot Shrike (Lang) is chasing Hester.

The clanking cities and their floating shuttles are very cool, mixing Steampunk with sci-fi. Although everything reminds us of another movie: the rabble are straight from Mad Max, Shrike is the Terminator, and ultimately a rag-tag of rebel pilots take on the London Death Star. There's even a Bespin-like cloud city and a hero who looks like Legolas. Plus a big emotive moment that directly lifts one of the biggest twists in film history. Early on, when dialog is densely expository, this doesn't matter so much, but later it becomes distracting.

But the real problem is that the characters barely develop. Hilmar is fine as Hester, although everything we know about her comes from a few flashbacks. Sheehan brings jittery energy and likeable humour to Tom. And Kim's Anna is frankly awesome. But Weaving can't do much with his one-note villain, so it seems improbable that his bland daughter (George) had no idea he was such a fiendish monster.

There's so much going on that themes and subtext are lost in the shuffle. Frankly, it's difficult to work out whether this story has anything to say to us aside from the dangers of megalomania. It definitely would have helped to include a sense that Hester was trying to overcome her drive for vengeance, or that Tom was struggling with being put into a heroic situation. Anything, really. But at least the film looks spectacular, with seamless digital effects and a cast of physically adept performers.

cert 12 themes, violence, language 5.Dec.18

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