The latest outing by writer and producer Peter Jackson, Mortal Engines, features a post-apocalyptic future where almost everyone left in the world is forced to live on giant engines that clumsily trudge along a ruined landscape. However, the engines aren't the only thing clumsily trudging along in this movie - while Mortal Engines is visually gorgeous, the narrative feels inept, poorly written, overly convenient and frankly uncompelling.
The original concept for Mortal Engines was incredibly clever: a post-apocalyptic world where our era of technology wiped out a good portion of life on the planet, creating a new era where all cities are now mobilized and even hunt each other. Its futurististic and barbaric themes at times resembled Blade Runner, with the healthy dose of Lord of the Rings drama that has become essential to Peter Jackson productions. In the right hands, Mortal Engines could have been groundbreaking, being used as a genius lens for us to look at the mistakes of our society, while also reminding us that history tends to repeat itself. Unfortunately, Mortal Engines did not fall into the right hands, with the genius concept of the book by Philip Reeve being wasted on a poorly developed movie narrative.
One of the most draining aspects of Mortal Engines was its characters. While all of the actors involved gave decent performances, especially Hugo Weaving who played the movie's antagonist Thaddeus Valentine, none of them appeared to be written well. Most of the actions made by the characters seemed to only crudely further the plot or inform the audience about something important, without any proper motivation or depth to their actions.
A prime example of this occurred within the first few minutes of the movie, where two characters, Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) and Katherine Valentine (Leila George), were both discussing the history of their world. Both characters appeared to have in-depth knowledge of history and how Earth came to the place it is now, yet still gave a detailed history lesson to each other anyways, purely for the purpose of exposition. It may have been informative to the audience, but it felt forced and immediately made these characters feel unbelievable. Many of the other characters who appeared throughout the story also felt as though they were only their for plot convenience rather than to actually drive the story forward in an intriguing way.
One positive aspect of Mortal Engines was its visuals. While the visual effects of the landscapes and machines were obviously cool looking, what really made the movie pop on screen was the set design that had been created. The city of London in particular was designed gorgeously, with the cityscape and structures looking like a futuristic Dr. Seuss creation. Despite the sloppy storytelling, it wouldn't come as a surprise if Mortal Engines received an Oscar nomination for Best Production Design.
While Mortal Engines may have had great potential, it falls flat, especially when compared to the wide variety of other movies being released this month. At the end of the day, the latest blockbuster from Universal Pictures may be one you will want to wait for DVD to see, as its uncompelling and predictable narrative is so easy to follow, you could be playing on your phone the entire time and not miss a single plot detail.