REVIEW: ‘Mortal Engines’ is a poor attempt at building a new fantasy series

A steampunk world with some fantasy and Hugo Weaving to boot? This should have been a fairly entertaining ride. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with this adaptation.

“Mortal Engines” is set several hundred years in the future where human civilization was devastated following mass explosions. The story picks up with large sections of humanity living in mobile cities that move from place to place, some with more power than others.

The main focus of the story is on Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), who’s seeking revenge against Thaddeus Valentine (Weaving), the head researcher for the (now) mobile city of London, who’s trying to harness the power of old technology from the pinnacle of human civilization. In her adventure, Hester meets Tom (Robert Sheehan), a young museum worker who ends up tagging along.

As a whole, “Mortal Engines” feels convoluted. To start, the world-building doesn’t really feel complete, since it’s not really clear why cities have to move around. It’s never specified if there are other threats or natural disasters causing humanity to do this, so right from the start the entire concept seems odd.

This continues with the story, which just meanders and plods along with very few interesting moments. The whole thing is a bore, and there are several plot points that are simply not well explained so it doesn’t always make sense. There’s also the fact that it falls into the same territory as most other young adult fantasy novel adaptations.

The stumbling, cookie-cutter storytelling could be forgiven, though, if the script was strong and the dialogue was smart. However, the writing here is a disaster for much of the film, with lines feeling inauthentic if not cringe-inducing. Another detriment with how this film was written is that it tries to insert some social commentary with all the subtlety of a jackhammer.

Courtesy Universal Pictures.

“Mortal Engines” is also way too moody for its own good. It’s usually so serious and most attempts at comic-relief are characters questioning items from our time period that they’ve found. I kid you not, there’s a moment where they call Minion toys ancient statues.

The characters don’t help the cause all too much. Hilmar gives a good shot, but the character is just so dull. There’s a backstory with her, but part of it leads to a rather bizarre subplot that just felt jarring with the rest of the picture.

Sheehan, meanwhile, is completely forgettable as Tom. His character feels so entirely generic and there’s little personality featured. It also doesn’t help that Weaving is entirely wasted playing the most generic of villains without having any fun with the role.

Is the visual spectacle in “Mortal Engines” good? Sure, but it’s no where near enough to save this film. The script is laughable, the acting is never above average, and the concept is not particularly well executed. 1 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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