Christian Rivers’ Mortal Engines is very much a case of style over substance. Whilst the film offers spectacle, the poor writing scuppers enjoyment.
In a world where cities are roaming beasts which consume smaller towns, Hester is determined to get into London to fulfil a mission. Meanwhile, Londoner Tom inadvertently gets caught up in the melee…
Based on the novel by Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines is set in a dystopian world of cities on wheels. The premise of the film is enticing enough; a post-apocalyptic world where powerful cities absorb smaller ones. There is plenty of room for exploration here, with the imbalance of power between the urban and the rural. Furthermore, the prominence of London points to a colonial past. Yet these aspects are not inspected in any detail.
Where the film falls down is its script. Written by Peter Jackson (who also produces), Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens, Mortal Engines feels like it was made a decade or so ago. It falls into a trap that some big blockbusters of that period did; so much is put into the visuals that the story seems like an afterthought. Characters in Mortal Engines do not break out of their archetypes. The two leads are not developed in a sympathetic way; it is difficult to care about their outcomes. Other characters do not fare any better, with a dull antagonist, wafer-thin helpers, and a supporting character who disappears completely without explanation.
There is a sub plot in Mortal Engines that could have been completely omitted, as it adds nothing to the main narrative and characters. Elsewhere, a later twist is utterly predictable, and adds nothing to the stakes. Poor dialogue and lacklustre character development hinder performances from the cast. Visuals are where the film shines. Some dated steampunk inclinations aside, the world created by the film envelops viewers. Special effects are faultless.
There are some great looking action set pieces, but these are not enough to redeem the film. Mortal Engines is a high-concept premise that needed a decent script.