In a world full of teenage post-apocalyptic stories, it's difficult to stand out from the pack. You’d thing with a concept as rich as Municipal Darwinism (literal cities that eat each other for survival) that the concept alone might get you over the line. Sadly it’s not always the case, and much like a smaller city you feel live you’ve been chewed up and spat out by this juggernaut of a film.
A young Londoner Tom (Robert Sheehan, ‘The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones’, TV's 'Misfits') is thrown from his life of seeming comfort aboard his traction city (city that moves) when he attempts to save Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving, ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ franchise, ‘The Matrix’ franchise) from an attempted assassination by they mysterious Hester (Hera Hilmar, TV's 'Da Vinci's Demons', ‘Anna Karenina’). Leaving his life of ignorant comfort behind, he and Hester begin a journey to stop the evil Valentine from unleashing the same weapon that caused the catastrophic event that preluded the film.
First things first - if you are going to have a film with such a plot, as genius as it may be (For the record I was so on board with Municipal Darwinism), you really need to set up the world. While I have often advocated that audiences don’t need their hands held throughout a film, a little bit more world building wouldn’t have gone astray in ‘Mortal Engines.’ Certain characters come and go without so much as a glimpse, we are told certain areas and people are bad but are never shown them, and we are given small nods to a world that, had it been luxuriated in for a little longer, would have been so much fun to be a part of.
That said, there is an element of fun in ‘Mortal Engines’ as it rollicks along at the pace of a larger city trying to hunt down a smaller one. Not to spoil anything here, but one of the greatest ideas in the whole film - cities hunting cities - happens a total of one time. Just one. No more. So the idea of it being how the world runs doesn’t come across strong enough. I don’t want to keep picking apart the plot, but it’s mainly this and the pacing that I had an issue with.
The acting is fine, although they are mostly given lines that are ripped from the Young Adult Fiction Handbook of Clichés.
The acting is fine, although they are mostly given lines that are ripped from the Young Adult Fiction Handbook of Clichés, and are otherwise given not much else to work with – surprising as Peter Jackson ('The Lord of the Rings' Trilogy) was one of the writers and producers on the project. The score by Junkie XL, a Dutch composer, DJ and producer is oftentimes overbearing and over dramatic; I get that they might have been going for a ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ sort of grandioseness, but in the context of the film it’s just a touch out of place.
If it sounds like I’ve not had a good time, you’d be mistaken - it was enjoyable in a comfortable, predicable and silly way. If I sound like I’m disappointed at the potential of the film you’d be right. If it sounds like I’ve used the names of many other science fiction franchises it's because not since ‘Eragon’ have I seen a genre pillaged for its best bits and shoved together to form an incoherent whole. Much like the cities in ‘Mortal Engines’, the film is a misshapen mishmash of concepts and ideas. It’s such a shame everything wasn’t a little more clear.