I remember reading Phil Reeve’s book back when I was young, and loving the steampunk dystopian future of mobile cities. And now to see director Christian Rivers bring it to life with the team who created The Lord of the Rings behind him was incredibly exciting to me.
Now the story isn’t much new, especially given that we had a big boom of Young Adult dystopian future set film franchise we had a few years ago. There was The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner and all of these have very similar stories and overarching themes. And Mortal Engines is no different.
We follow Hester Shaw, a young woman who has a vendetta against Thaddeus Valentine the head of the Guild of Historians in London. She ends up being joined by Tom Natsworthy, a young historians who works in a London museum. Theirs is a classic YA story relationship, they begin antagonistically with Hester hating Valentine, and Tom working for him, but quickly turns into feelings for one another. Valentine as well is a very typical villain in one of these kind of films, but he is elevated because of the presence of Hugo Weaving in the role. Weaving is one of the finest actors around and manages to bring both a charm and a menace to the role.
But what makes Mortal Engines so much more than these other films is the way that Rivers brought Reeve’s world to life.
The film opens with a chase. One that introduces us to the concept of mobile cities. And wow, it is one of the most staggering things ever brought to screen. To see the giant London chasing down the small Bavarian mining town of Salzhaken is incredible. It immediately lets you know if you’re in to this world or not, and if you are it only gets better.
And Christian Rivers is at the heart of that. He’s clearly learned a lot from Jackson as a director, but it is his time as the visual effects supervisor on The Lord of the Rings films that has translated so crucially to Mortal Engines. This is certainly a visual effects driven films, because without the incredible work of Weta Digital the film just would not work. What we are seeing in Mortal Engines is something that you will never have seen before on film, and Rivers and Weta managed to pull it off.
As well as the mobile cities there is all manner of awesomely designed airships, as well as a couple of other very unique settlements. But the highlight is certainly Shrike, an undead soldier/assassin reanimated using cybernetic parts played by Stephen Lang. He’s a brilliant character, and one I cannot quite believe I’m finally getting to see brought to the big screen.
If you’re all about story and character then Mortal Engines won’t really offer you anything new, although it is very competently made. However if you are interested in a rich and fascinating world, the like of which you will never have seen before, than Mortal Engines is a must see.