Mortal Engines is the film adaptation of Philip Reeve's popular steampunk young adult novel. It is visually impressive, a huge film loaded with top tier special effects. The problem is the barrage of characters and dodgy exposition. Mortal Engines unloads a torrent of information while literally grinding along to ear splitting clanking. The wailing soundtrack by Junkie XL exacerbates the annoyance. The experience quickly devolves to grating. I honestly couldn't wait for the film to end by the colossal climax.
Set more than a thousand years after an apocalyptic event, the earth's crust has rearranged the continents. The majority of humans live in gigantic,rolling "traction cities" that consume each other for resources. London is the biggest predator. The behemoth has crossed the landbridge into Europe, gobbling up everything and everyone in its path.
Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar stars as the scarred Hester Shaw. She has been working diligently to infiltrate London and assassinate Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), a ruthless scientist. Robert Sheehan co-stars as Tom Natsworthy, a low level historian who unwittingly finds himself allied with Hester Shaw. Valentine's daughter, Katherine (Leila George), worships her father but has become wary of his top secret experiments. As London barrels toward the Shield Wall, the haven of the "Anti-Tractionists", a revolutionary fighter (Jihae) and near unstoppable monster (Stephen Lang) seek Hester Shaw for different reasons.
Mortal Engines is written and produced by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens. They are the filmmaking team behind The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Complex, mega-budget, special effects spectacles are their specialty. They unfortunately miss the mark here. Mortal Engines never grabs hold of you. The characters don't resonate. There wasn't a moment where I felt anything for the plight of Hester Shaw. The story just rumbles along to the next action scene. After a while, London becomes like a ground-based Death Star; chewing up CGI cities until a brooding heroine saves the day.
Mortal Engines has incredible visual effects and production design. Director Christian Rivers, a protege of Peter Jackson, makes a good looking film. His skill as a special effects supervisor on Jackson's films serve him well. He needs to work on character interactions. The dramatic scenes in Mortal Engines are fleeting. Hester Shaw needed more time to percolate. I can understand the desire for quick pacing. But in a story with this much exposition, time has to be taken to reinforce the primary character's motivations. Mortal Engines never gives the audience a chance to understand Hester Shaw. When the other characters start pouring on, she becomes another cog in the wheel. This is an odd oversight in a Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh produced film.
The score by Junkie XL drove me nuts. He's hit or miss. He nailed Mad Max: Fury Road, but was god-awful orchestrating Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. There seems to be no middle ground with his work. Mortal Engines is brutally loud from start to finish. The cities and all kinds of steampunk inspired vehicles make a cacophony of noise. The film veers into the unpleasant with Junkie XL's discordant soundtrack. It's an aural assault that seriously detracts entertainment value from the film.
Mortal Engines is produced by Wingnut Films and distributed by Universal Pictures. There are four novels in the series. I honestly don't see this film being successful enough to warrant a sequel. If it does well at the box office, there needs to be major changes to the approach. The characters need more development, and someone new for the score. I can't sit through another two hours of grinding synth music.