Mortal Engines (2 stars)

Mortal Engines

Peter Jackson produces and co-writes this disappointing dystopian adventure

In the post-apocalyptic future of this cumbersome steampunk fantasy mobilised 'predator' cities 'ingest' smaller cities through gaping maws, stripping them of vitals with scant regard for their human populations. Adapted from the first of four young adult novels by Philip Reeve and produced and co-written by Peter Jackson, Mortal Engines is a kind of predator movie on those terms. An imposing but unwieldy hodgepodge of fragments from other films, it lurches between gargantuan sets and set-pieces with little sense of grace or pace, let alone space for emotional engagement.

What human interest it does offer comes from the young leads. Hera Hilmar makes fiery work of Hester Shaw, a woman seeking revenge on Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), high-ranking historian from the 'traction' city of London. Robert Sheehan adds sparks of charisma as Tom Natsworthy, a trainee historian forced to join Hester on the run after he overhears Valentine's dark secrets.

Working from a script by long-time collaborators Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, visual-effects-supervisor-turned-director Christian Rivers nails the spectacle but rushes the bond between Hester and Tom. His startling images include a bustling sky city and a caterpillar-like crawling vehicle; most offer up clever feats of design detail, like the big wheel slicing through London's core. Yet the human populations barely register, beyond the need to run, fight and grapple with stodgy bouts of exposition.

Despite Stephen Lang's charged mo-cap performance, the cyborg figure Shrike highlights another problem. Shrike's resemblance to the Terminator joins echoes of Mad Max, Brazil, The Matrix, WALL-E and The Lord of the Rings in Rivers' homage-heavy staging; the climax, meanwhile, mimics the Star Wars series right down to one entirely unsurprising twist. You're left with the impression of a multi-film saga squeezed into one movie, leaving little to be developed in the proposed sequels. Bloated on its ambition, Mortal Engines bites off more than it can ingest.

General release from Fri 14 Dec.

Mortal Engines

  • 2 stars
  • 2018
  • New Zealand / US
  • Directed by: Christian Rivers
  • Cast: Hera Hilmar, Hugo Weaving, Robert Sheehan

In a post-apocalyptic future, entire cities have gone mobile and ingest smaller cities, stripping them of resources. Rivers nails the spectacle but flunks the human interest, squeezing too many effects and story into one movie and leaving no room for emotional engagement.