One-and-a-half out of four
Mortal Engines has too many broken down parts to be a well-working machine.
In a post-apocalyptic world, civilization has been torn apart and cities have become giant mobile vehicles.
The biggest cities prey on smaller cities. London is one of the most powerful. It is led, in part, by Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), who wants London to be the biggest and baddest of them all (cue maniacal laughter).
However, his plans are disrupted when Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) attempts to kill him for murdering her mom. Her assassination attempt is interrupted by Tom (Robert Sheehan), who clearly doesnt know how bad Valentine is. He soon finds out when Valentine pushes him off London.
The next hour and a half are spent with Hester and Tom surviving in the Outlands (which appears to be some ambiguous wasteland area) while trying to figure out Valentines plan and stop it in order to save the world, for obvious reasons. If Hester can get a side order of revenge along the way, all the better for her.
From the minute the movie begins, audiences are thrust into a brave new world. Some things are halfway explained, others arent explained at all. Words and phrases that get thrown around with little or no explanation include anti-tractioners (something about Lazarus and robots, land cities with walls) and southies. The script leaves viewers to sink or swim, and the audience mostly sinks in a sea of unclear information.
The plot also moves so quickly that characters get lost in the shuffle. In a well-told story, theres a connection between the plot and the characters, how their choices affect the story. That isnt the case here. Theres no clear sense of who the main players are and why they do what they do. New characters show up with a five-minute flashback about why theyre significant, then 20 minutes later theyre gone.
The one thing Mortal Engines has going for it is the special effects. The moving cities look cool, like a steampunk version of Hayao Miyazakis Japanese animated film Howls Moving Castle. For the most part, the cities look like real places. Characters run and jump through the cities engines and wheels. The film uses a combination of sets and computer animation so audiences can see a citys almost life-like movements.
But dazzling special effects cant save a film. Its too bad because, if you scraped off the mess, there might be a compelling story with complex characters under there. Instead Mortal Engines ends up being junk for the scrapyard.