Mortal Engines ★★½

A dystopian steampunk fantasy from Christian Rivers and written/produced by Peter Jackson based on the successful novels by Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines promised much when I first heard it had gone into production last year.
Not being familiar with the actual books themselves I was somewhat taken though with the rather mind-blowing concept of huge traction cities on wheels that scavage a decimated landscape looking for scraps to keep the cogs turning and will even consume other cities in their quest for survival.
The main city focused on here is London and in particular one of its residents the Head of the Guild of Historians Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving) a man of great influence who is working on an a clandestine project within the confines of St.Pauls' Cathedral which he hopes will solve the city's perennial energy crisis once and for all. All is not what it seems though and both his daughter Katherine Valentine (Leila George) and young apprentice historian Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) both get suspicious of his true motives after a failed assassination attempt on his life by the mysterious Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmer) an outsider bearing a significant facial scar who blames Thaddeus for her late mother's demise.
The final product has by all accounts kept pretty faithful to the source material but without the detailed nuances afforded to the vast confines of a novel it struggles to give enough background to its characters some of whom try to obtain an unearned emotional status with the viewer - exhibit A being Anna Fang (Jihae), a pilot and leader of the Anti-Traction League resistance group who only appears at the halfway point and is afforded a much more poignant role here than she was in the novel apparently - and with others such as Katherine rendered virtually redundant.
Also, the stars all look unfeasibly good looking and polished considering this is all meant to take place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Added to that the action ultimately goes down the well-trodden route of merciless bad guys trying to use a superweapon to annihilate their peace-loving moral superiors.
It looks incredible though - imagine if Terry Gilliam had directed 'Stardust' (2007) - and features an impressive rendering of undead stalker /soldier Shrike by Stephen Lang - himself no stranger to science fiction epics - who is both likeable and terrifying at the same time and all done with a Scottish accent that somehow works.
At the box office, it's been beyond a disaster incredibly taking less than $100 million - it cost around $150 million to make - not helped by an underwhelming and half-hearted marketing campaign and joins a rogues gallery of other mega-budgeted spectacular box-office misfires that have come along in recent years such as - but by no means limited to - John Carter (2012), Jupiter Ascending (2015) and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) with the unenviable honour of making even less cash than any of them.
All that being said I actually think it could have worked pretty damn well as a TV show. Albeit a hugely expensive one to make.

Paul Anthony liked this review