Review of Mortal Engines

Thursday, December 6, 2018
shrike mortal engines movie review

Review of Mortal Engines 


This review of the Mortal Engines film is long, over opinionated and full of unnessary concern about how The Last Jedi played out.

Deal with it.

Oh, and spoilers.

Making movies is a risky game of kind. For the studios, it's a numbers game. The successful movies fund and offset the duds. Sometimes you throw some celluloid at a wall to see what sticks.

But no movie is going to get a green light if it's a gonna be a dud on delivery.

So at the face of it, Mortal Engines being a love story set against the background of a post-apocalyptic Earth where some of the remaining humans live on giant traction cities that eat other for precious resources in some kind of zero-sum game called Municipal Darwinism perhaps does seems like it has dud potential (in the eyes of a risk adverse studio exec anyway).

Just throw that celluloid!

Anyways, Peter Jackson steps up to the plate along with his offsiders, Fran Walsh and Pippa Boyens so the royal they let him throw some celluloid.

I think this is a phrase I just made up. I'm copyrighting it just in case.

So anyways a trio from New Zealand that has more Oscars between them than most major Hollywood production teams stepped up.

And so, with a bit of American cash and some Kiwi splash, yet another Kiwi Oscar winner, Christian Rivers, was unleashed to direct the adaption of Reeve's YA novel.

And when the first trailer was released this author truly feared a dud was on the cards. We didn't say this publically (yeah, we know but wanted to support this film) but it looked like a cool idea with a wrong color palette that got zapped by a taser on acid.

Or something.

Details slowly came out which suggested promise and finally, we saw Shrike we were feeling a lot better about things.

Was a story about giant cities eating each other with Sir Peter Jackson's name splashed over it going to get a leg over the other hordes of films released this month (Mary Poppins, Aquaman, Bumblebee) or would it be a one and done?

For this reviewer, one who is closely attached to the books, the associated lore Reeve has built up through short stories and prequels and the fans, I can't quite bring myself rate it as a "That will do pig, that will do" but I can sneak in a "The battle of Helm's Deep is over; the battle for Middle Earth is about to begin."....

By that I mean, where's my damn sequel already?

I look at this film like I look at Transformers movie where giant robots kick each other in the head or giant Yeagar rise up out of the sea to kill everyone a la Pacific Rim. You accept it, buckle in for the ride and enjoy it for what it is.

Which is:

Some. 

Big. 

Dumb. 

Fun!

If you look at Mortal Engines as a concept any other way, you're probably going to end up feeling like the hordes of fan boys and girls who hated The Last Jedi.

Because this film is not about a box of err... Roses.

What are you looking at Dear Reader?

So after all these words, what of the damn movie?


It's probably the most spectacular train wreck of a movie that I've ever seen. And I saw the Transformers sequel twice.

THIS MEANS I LOVE IT!

That said, I'm pretty sure the haters are gonna hate, hate, hate, but the players...

The players will turn this major motion picture by a Hollywood studio into a cult film.

I'm certain there will be legions of book readers out there who have turned each page with fear and trepidation as to what would befall Tom and Hester next, who will want to see what it looks like when London calls and when they do, their mortal hearts will be happy.

So what of the movie then?

The Love Story


The story of Mortal Engines is often pitched as a Young Adult love story (of an inverse kind) but this movie has aged the characters into their mid-twenties so the love story that evolves is more natural in a sense but it certainly feels like Tom Natsworthy and Hera Hilamr didn't stay up all night together drinking Steinlager and working on their characters before they began rolling film.

Or pressing play on the record button or however they do it these days.

Both are clearly excellent actors but the relationship feels stilted (even despite the plot point of it)  - that's presumably what happens when you change the character dynamic of Hester by not making her the ugliest girl on any traction city... They sure took the feral out of that girl.

But by the ending of the movie, it's a believable enough relationship and leaves that nonsense with Rose saving Finn at the end of The Last Jedi in the sands of Crait...

The Heroes


You know how in Stranger Things, the guy that sings Sledgehammer sung Heroes by David Bowie?

That should be Anna Fang's theme song. Despite some hokey one-liners, the casting of Jihae is a triumph of the film.

In the novel, Fang was inspired by Han Solo from Star Wars and in this film, she treads those boards as a badass so well, she may as well star in the next couple of prequels...

Time will tell on that.

There's many a supporting player in ME that can be classed as a hero too.

Chudleigh Pomery (superbly played by Colin Salmon)

Yasmina

Captain Khora


Nihls, oh Nihls.

All just great characters and well played by the actors.

They all have a chance to shine and do so very well - indeed Fang's Anti-traction league team are possibly one of the most underrated crews to have flown in an airship in recent times.

Anna Fang, naturally gets a special mention in dispatches all of her own


In the novel, Anna Fang is a mysterious bad ass.

Sensing a fine character in the making, Peter Jackson kept her as less mysterious but upped the ante in the bass add department.

The character is great fun.

It was wonderful to see the books' Jenny Hanniver come to life. Piloted by Fang, the airship is a central part of all four original novels so it was great to see it in action, even if it's now powered to be as fast and deadly as an F14 Tomcat.

Jiahe's delivery of a few lines is pretty loose (which heads into Star Wars' I hate sand territory) but if you can get past that, you'll see Anna Fang is one of the hearts of the movie that pumps along quite nicely, especially with a triple powered shotgun in hand...

magnus chrome and valentine mortal engines


The Villains


Mrrrrr Anderrrrsooon.

That was my proper introduction to Hugo Weaving as the Agent in The Matrix.

A Lord of the Rings alumni, Peter Jackson and team clearly love working with the man and why wouldn't you want to when he can turn on a dime as Elrond or Agent Smith and become this horrible, horrible man.

Have you seen The Lovely Bones where Transformers alumni Stanley Tucci plays a horrible child killer? Every scene with Tucch was in felt like I was being violated by the mere force of his acting.

Weaving does the same thing here.

He's a fucking psycho yet he doesn't even know it. He thinks that he is the good guy in all of this.

Sure, he knows he's cut a few corners here and there or the odd young girl's faces or murdered his lover to get where he's going but he's done it all for London.

So it's OK then, you see?

Magnus Chrome, Mayor London. 

I expected good things but this was a kind of a by the numbers caricature of the character in a way.

Patrick Malahides's Chrome didn't feel like he was as dangerous as he did in the novel and the plot point change for this character doesn't help, but makes for a good movie.



mortal engines shrike green eyes

Shrike

Did you know a shrike is a bird that impales captured insects on cactus thorns? It's very helpful if you know this going into the film...

When you ask a man with the gravitas of Stephan Lang to play Shrike, you hope that this is a casting that will flow on perfectly into the sequel films...

And it is.

Shrike is perfectly played by Lang.

Judging from interviews with him prior to the film's release, he really got into the lore of the character (we suspect he read ALL the novels) and put his achting heart into a character that in many ways literally and figuratively has no heart (or does he?!)

Lang's green-eyed version of The Terminator is a chilling representation of what could be humanity's future: an embryonic cyborg where feelings might matter, but killing is a preference. Make no mistake though, this character is not a retread of a classic 1980's robot killer, it's a whole new take on love, which the film's ending sequences slowly reveal in a most poignant manner. It's like Peter Jackson has read the books or something...

I loved the look and feel of the character and the action sequences that featured Shrike are just bang on the money, and reason enough to see the film alone.

What about the look and feel of the movie?


Being a Peter Jackson produced film where all the elements of his empire in Miramar, Wellington, NZ have been brought to bear, you'd expect this film to be a CGI gore fest.

And yes it is just that, but frankly, that's probably why PJ wanted to do this movie as there has never been ANYTHING like this on screen before (Can all those people talking about Howl's Moving Castle now please quietly shuffle along?).

This movie's effects are arguably the best that Weta Digital have ever produced. I'm not an expert at all but I suspect they are certainly some of the most complicated, apes aside.

Let's talk London.

When London is framed as a hulking metal mass, the angles are so menacing. When starring up at the screen in the opening chase, I felt like I was about to get squashed by the damn thing.

How do you show and project a city that's 2.5 kilometers long chasing a smaller traction city? This is not Darth Vader's Executor ship in Empire that just sittings unmoving in space, this city needs contrast around it as otherwise how will you believe what you are seeing?

And: Holy Cow Batman >> when that city rolled by as I sat in my seat, I truly felt I was about to be monstered by 100000 tonnes of cold British Steel.

So, it looks great.

Shrike as a CGI motion capture is some fine work and gosh, the ending where the Medusa weapon comes alive is just magical.

Airhaven was a visual spectacle and seems like a fun place to hang out, despite it being a little too easy for robot assassins to turn up and try and kill everybody.

The soundtrack


The music of Mortal Engines is composed by Tom Holkenborg and it is simply superb. One of the things that has infuriated me about the development of Mortal Engines is the comparisons people make to Mad Max: Fury Road.

Mortal Engines is not Mad Max, it's just Mad, Max.

But they do now share a composer.

Holkenborg is clearly one talented composer. The film soars with his music as it needs and there's some crucial, heart breaking moments in the film where it feels like his music is the thing that is turning the dagger in one's heart.

So what's bad about it?


If we're to get critical for a moment, and remember, we are accepting this movie as just some big dumb fun!, the acting is pretty clunky in parts - have a think to some of the early Star Wars films and you're on the mark.

Some of Anna Fang's revelatory speech to Hester is a bit OTT

There's also several plot points that have been changed which have some drastic effects on the story - so much so that in the film premiere the author Philip Reeve had to pause to figure out what was happening.

This is basically to say, Mortal Engines the movie has a very different ending than the book, but it works, even if it sneaks a moment which allows Tom Natsworthy to pull a Lando Calrissian move out of the Return of the Jedi playbook cross with a bit of The Guns of Navarone.

Katherine Valentine - well played as a character but went simplynowheree in terms of plot, like you could cut the character (and Bevis) and have no consequnce to the ending of the movie, which is completely different to the ending of the novel. 

If you've followed this site, you'll know we lamented that Hester's scar was toned down from 11 to 4. We got over it and enjoyed Hera Hilmar's version of Hester for what it is. FUN. Not FERAL. FUN.

The verdict?

Mortal Engines is a fun ride, a visual treat to enjoy while you eat overpriced popcorn.

We rate it a strong 7.5 out of 10.

It features a lot of talent on screen and behind it. While it differs from the book in many ways, this feels like the best version of the world of Mortal Engines that we ever could expect to see on the silver screen. 

Christian Rivers has done a fine job on his first gig as director and should be commended for making a decent BIG DUMB FUN! film. 

Time will tell if this film's success merits a second film, we hope so as the stories only get better > so go see it. 

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