Directed by: #ChristianRivers
After purchasing the film rights 9 years ago, LOTR legend Peter Jackson’s long-awaited interpretation of the Mortal Engines saga is finally here.
Who wouldn’t want to see giant, motorised cities roaming desolate wastelands to consume everything smaller than themselves in a quirky steampunk tribute? Unfortunately, the idea is much better than the execution.
Hera Hilmer takes the lead as brooding Hester Shaw, a disfigured assassin seeking revenge for a past trauma. After a failed attempt on the man who took her mother’s life, Thaddeus Valentine (the ever-watchable Hugo Weaving), Hester is cast out from the monstrous London with do-gooder Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan). The two must fend for themselves without the protection of their roaming abodes.
Despite a strong start for Hilmer, her performance slowly fizzles as Shaw’s strength and anger wilt, perhaps tethered by Sheehan, who is undoubtedly the worst aspect of this film. Although he may look the part, his portrayal of Tom is incredibly annoying from the outset amidst painful overacting. Though this would likely have a lot to do with the jam-packed script that decided to state the glaringly obvious anytime there was a hint of a dramatic pause.
Fans of the books will be disappointed by the character portrayals in general, save for Weaving as the villain of the piece. One could be fooled at several points that Valentine is misunderstood, to the point where you almost root for him. But even this falters into predictability as the final act plays through.
The result is a hot mess.
A pacey Mad Max-esque opening, great visual effects and an engaging score do little to breathe life to Christian Rivers’ directorial debut. Even these seem inferior to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which survived on a much smaller budget and relied on the wonders of New Zealand – something Mortal Engines may have greatly benefited from.
Potential for an engaging film faded in ignoring the more personal storylines that are mostly hinted at, explained briefly, and then glazed over in the shadow of battle between London and the static settlements in Shan Guo (formerly China). Valentine’s history with Hester and her mother, as well as Hester’s reunion with the weirdly likeable Shrike (an undead Stalker played by Avatar’s Stephen Lang) are the most watchable parts of the film, and yet gone in a flash.
A multitude of characters (Anna, Katherine, Bevis, Magnus, Chudleigh…I could go on) that had potential barely received any screen time, making way for the forced and uninspired romance of Hester and Tom, several far too obvious Star Wars rip-offs, and a replicated war plot we’ve seen a hundred times. Perhaps Jackson and Rivers should have stuck to Middle Earth.