"Mortal Engines" Review - (Non-Spoiler)
Mortal Engines was directed by Christian Rivers and produced by Peter Jackson. It is about a young woman named Hester Shaw in a post-apocalyptic world where cities drive around on wheels. Some are larger than others like London and they eat smaller cities to help power their city. Hester Shaw eventually teams up with a guy named Tom Natsworthy with both of them being wronged by Hugo Weaving's character named Thaddeus Valentine to go after him and try to stop a political/power conspiracy.
The trailers will have you believe that this is Peter Jackson's next directorial effort. The marketing doesn't have much confidence in its actual director. In fact, there are actual people I know who talk about movies for a living who legit thought Peter Jackson directed this movie. It is bound to become one of those "Nightmare Before Christmas" scenarios where many people thought that film was directed by Tim Burton when it was really Henry Selick.
This film has so much going for it behind the scenes and in front of the camera. It is a gorgeous looking film with amazing visual effects and production design. Christian Rivers was an uncredited storyboard artist on most of Peter Jackson's films. He directed a short film called "Feeder" which I've never seen or heard about until tonight on his IMDb account.
So, this is his first gigantic project with so much going on and it's gorgeous to look at from a visual perspective. However, it is pretty dull in every other aspect.
I wasn't invested in a single character in this movie. The only character I understood and cared about the most was a robot zombie named Shrike, which other characters refer to him as "The Resurrected". Besides him, the rest of the characters are just pieces shifted in and out of frame to propel the story along. They attempt to delve into the backstory of some of these characters like Hester Shaw and Shrike. All of it though feels so familiar and derivative of other films and literature.
This film owes its soul to so many other better films, Howl's Moving Castle by Hayao Miyazaki is one of the biggest ones. Castle in the Sky, another film by Miyazaki or the Mad Max series in more recent terms. It even has a music score by Junkie XL (Tom Holkenborg). Which hits you so hard in the early scenes that it feels like you're watching the finale of the movie, even though it's the first ten minutes.
Mortal Engines feels like the third film in a trilogy like we've had two films already that are leading to this gigantic finale. Except we didn't get two films to precede this story. The character and story development aren't there. It feels like that's what should have happened with this movie that we're watching like we're ignoring huge pieces of world building. You need those elements with a film this monstrous with so many characters like this with more time to develop its story to understand the importance of these events going on. Because the film treats everything very hyper-serious that you can't really have much fun with it either. The attempts at humor usually fall pretty flat, and the gorgeous art, production, costume design, and visual effects are mostly wasted because you just don't care about what's going on. Which is really unfortunate, because there is a lot of talent that when into making this movie, especially with Peter Jackson and his team from 'Lord of the Rings' writing the screenplay. Even the ending owes itself to another film which I won't spoil, and it just feels like a bunch of movies we've seen before that were better crafted than this in its storytelling. I'm going to give 'Mortal Engines' a 4 out of 10.