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‘Mortal Engines’ (review by Leyla Mikkelsen)

Produced by Zane Weiner, Amanda Walker,
Deborah Forte, Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson
Screenplay by Fran Walsh,
Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Based on Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
Directed by Christian Rivers
Starring Hugo Weaving, Hera Hilmar,
Robert Sheehan, Jihae, Ronan Raftery,
Leila George, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang


Directed by newcomer Christian Rivers and produced and written by Peter Jackson & Co., Mortal Engines seeks to adapt Philip Reeve’s book of the same name and turn it into a cinematic epic destined to have multiple sequels.

However, while it is indeed somewhat cinematic at times, Mortal Engines is neither epic nor deserving of any sequels.

Being referred to by some as a steampunk version of Star Wars, the film may have that visual appeal to some, but this is not textured and intricate steampunk; this is the kind of steampunk found on clearance at Hot Topic, and even your most sullen, alternative teenager would be hard-pressed not to scoff at it because it is as caricatural as it is utterly underwhelming and lazily executed.

While there is some visual appeal in some of the set pieces and the visual effects used to create the post-apocalyptic landscape, it is simply not as impressive as one has come to expect from the talent associated with both Weta Workshop and Weta Digital, and there is certainly not enough visual spectacle present to elevate the film from being anything other than a derivative, dull and soulless husk of a film.

As for the people that inhabit the universe of Mortal Engines, the adaptations of the characters are truly what drag the film under. Not only is the writing formulaic and one-dimensional, it is also laden with clichés and tropes en masse. As a result, you see any twists coming from a mile away before they are revealed, and once they are revealed, you do not care about it whatsoever because the writing renders the film all but impossible to engage with.

The direction further exacerbates how unexceptional and derivative the writing is, and while the cast have arguably been given very little to work with in terms of character motivations and character development, the flatness of the performances across the board is still inexcusable.

While you can take your pick from characters you cannot emotionally invest in, the most glaring issue is undoubtedly the sheer lack of chemistry between the two leads in particular. Seemingly serving no purpose other than ensuring that Mortal Engines becomes an excruciatingly bland viewing experience, at no point do these characters ever become compelling, and their inevitable romance is laughably underbaked.

Even when one takes into consideration that the target audience of Mortal Engines may be a more forgiving audience of teens – and that film series aimed at this audience segment is often mocked in spite of the target audience finding some form of enjoyment in such films – one would be hard-pressed to find a valid argument for how Mortal Engines could possibly compete with the likes of the Twilight and Maze Runner film series, lambasted as those series may be by adult cinema-goers.

Instead, Mortal Engines lands with a crashing thud in the cemetery of failed attempts at launching film franchises based on imaginative books, as it seems highly unlikely that the additional films planned will go forward after the box office failure that surely looms on the horizon.

Peter Jackson and his affiliates made one of the most genuinely compelling epics in film history with the enthralling The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and nothing will ever change the appeal of that now classic trio of films. However, as was evident from the much-flawed King Kong and the overstretched and overworked The Hobbit trilogy, Jackson increasingly stumbles as a storyteller, and as likeable as The Lord of the Rings trilogy will always be, Mortal Engines is unengaging, banal drivel that makes me long for back-to-back screenings of the snoozefest that is The Hobbit trilogy.

Verdict: 2 out of 10.



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