Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Ronan Rafferty, Leila George
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…imaginative fun and escapist adventure.
After finishing up with the works of JRR Tolkien (for the moment at least), the question on many fan’s mind is ‘what will Peter Jackson’s WingNut Films release next?’ The answer appears in the form of Mortal Engines, a young adult dystopian steampunk adventure that features one of the most delightfully bizarre premises in recent memory.
Based on the popular series of books by Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines tells the tale of a post-apocalyptic society where mobile wheeled cities prey on other, smaller mobile wheeled cities (and towns) with the city of London playing the part of vicious, hamlet-scoffing apex predator.
The story really kicks off when sixteen-year-old Tom (Robert Sheehan), a Londoner who has never left the rolling Pom factory, is forced to exit his home after accidentally becoming embroiled in a plot involving the gleefully wicked despot Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving) and masked would-be assassin Hester (Hera Hilmar). What follows is a rollicking adventure that manages to successfully balance world building and storytelling to a favourable degree, although the exposition at times can be a little dizzying and relentless.
Director Christian Rivers has worked with Peter Jackson as far back as Braindead (1992) and has a lot of history in visual effects despite this being his first full feature film. Consequently, Mortal Engines showcases Rivers’ ability to confidently film massive, complicated worlds and structures, without making the audience feel they’re staring at a bunch of weightless CGI. The sets and environments feel lived in and authentic, with a floating town being a particularly memorable location. Rivers is, however, slightly less assured with some of the actors, with Robert Sheehan never quite as charming or lovable as he’s written on the page. Hera Hilmar, however, is fabulous as the driven, conflicted Hester, as is Jihae whose character Anna Fang threatens to walk away with the rest of the film despite being essentially an extended cameo.
Mortal Engine’s world is massive and engaging, the concept of “municipal Darwinism” is deliciously silly and imaginative, and there’s much fun to be had drinking in the sheer gleeful absurdity of it all. That will, of course, rely on a certain amount of an audience member’s ability to suspend their disbelief, but for those young and/or young at heart enough to embrace it, Mortal Engines will hit that sweet spot of imaginative fun and escapist adventure.