By: Simson Garcia
Moving cities and landscapes have always, well, moved me. It might have something to do with Ian Van Dahl's techno hit 'Castles in the Sky,' Hayao Miyazaki's film Castles in the Sky, or any of Hayao's movies that've always had strange moving objects in them. In Mortal Engines, there's a lot of things that move, and then there's a lot of things that don't move--me included.
The story of Mortal Engines takes place years into the future long after a cataclysmic war has ravaged earth. A battle between two mobile cities starts the first scene. From here, it's evidently obvious who the good guys are (dwellers who've settled in the "great mobile hunting ground") and who the bad guys are--why the opposition attacking them of course. I'm kidding. The bad guys are pretty much imperials of London whose goal is to absorb the smaller cities and its resources. I use imperial because it's much like Star Wars in that this powerful and more well-off society is controlled by a few. Similarly, they want to take over everyone and anyone who's potentially in their way. The stand-alone villain is Thaddeus Valentine, played by Hugo Weaving of 'Agent Smith' from The Matrix fame, in one of his most uninspiring movie roles. Thaddeus plots to infiltrate and be the "glitch" (see what I did there?) who takes over everything. He's technically what they call "The Head of the Guild of Historians," and history is one resource he and the upper echelon of metropolis cities wants to take full control over. The cool thing that develops from this is an understanding that this story takes place centuries from now. The time frame is so into the future, the characters don't even know what a toaster is and treat it as some golden treasure when discovered. The funniest takeaway is when the characters were in dialogue near a library display area called the "screen age," whereof which the mobile devices of our day contained in an encased glass were fabulously displayed.
The story moves on and the plot thickens a bit. We understand the lead good guy characters are Hester Shaw and Tom Natsworthy. Tom is a low-class historian and Hester is a masked-woman assassin who had been planning for years to kill Thaddeus after he murdered her mother. In a botched assassination attempt by Hester, Tom discovers of Thaddeus' true intentions and goals, and teams up with Hester. They go into hiding, run off together, form an unlikely bond, eventually learn about each other's too-dark-of-past-to-tell history and soon join up with an organized resistance in the sky called the Anti-Traction group, which I thought was pretty interesting detail wise. All the while, the duo are chased by a freakishly tall menacing robot named Shrike, played by Stephen Lang (the best thing about this movie), who was once Hester's guardian. We then uncover Thaddeus' plot to use a quantum energy source called MEDUSA which has the capability of destroying civilizations. The duo journeys to a more populous rebellion in a walled city, fights off and evades Shrike, and (won't spoil it much more) come to climatic finish with their opposition.
That's really it for this movie, yet, there's a lot of things happening in Mortal Engines. It's produced by Peter Jackson, so it's expected visual and sound effects to be all over the place. Mortal Engines looks flush and sounds cinematic, but that's it for me. I want to give it a ton of brownie points for the jabs of pop culture and the Japanese anime style-like structure (will look forward to any anime version of this movie and the novel), but the plot wasn't doing it for me. The story's played out, the dialogue goes nowhere, and the characters don't develop enough. I do respect the art and heavy effort the filmmakers put into Mortal Engines. They definitely knew what they were doing. But even these professionals didn't do enough for me. At times, I found a lot of similarities to Terminator, the 2002 H.G. Wells adapted film The Time Machine, and a few Miyazaki films. But then I received 'Maze Runner Scorch Trials' and every 'Hunger Games' sequel vibes. The latter two are on par with the rating I am going to give this movie. I'll give it an A- for cinematography, B+ for art, B+ for sound and visual effects, C- for acting, D for writing and D- for plot structure. Cumulative rating below.