Mortal Engines is the most ambitious, original and weirdest movie of 2018. That isn’t to say I liked or hated this movie, in fact, I still have no idea how I feel about it or what I’m going to rate it. I’m hoping by the end of this review I’ll have come up something because right now, this gets a QUESTION MARK rating.
A big factor in knowing if you’d like this movie is finding out how you feel about the Kevin Costner film Waterworld. Which by the way, if anyone is interested, Arrow is releasing a 2 disk limited edition Blu-ray of Waterworld in January.
I saw Waterworld in theaters when it came out back in 1995. Though I do remember liking the film, I do however remember getting up to leave about midway through to play Samurai Shodown in the arcade.
Eventually we (my cousin was also with me to see the movie) got back to the movie and watched the rest of it. But can you blame us? They had Samurai Shodown, guys! I never really cared much for Street Fighter, my go to arcade games were always Mortal Kombat and Samurai Shodown. Though I wouldn’t mind some Primal Rage either.
I don’t know if theaters even still have arcades. When I go to the theater I never look. The whole reason at that age to even go to the theater was to play games. Also watch the movies, that too. But I always found the arcade at the theaters less congested with people. Mainly because the only reason they were in there in the first place was to kill time before their movie started.
I lived next to a shopping mall, it quickly became a pretty shitty mall in a really bad part of town, you’d hear about shootings happening there on a daily basis. And this was before terrorist or bullied incels made public shootings a daily occurrence.
Back then it was just good ol’ fashioned gang violence.
Shootings or not, it wasn’t going to stop me from hitting the arcade, especially if it was the only place at the time that had Revolution X, the Aerosmith rail shooter. If you’ve never heard of that game, well sit down and hear a tale, a tale about a shooter where you shot CDs at these hazmat suit wearing terrorist guys who kidnapped the band members from Aerosmith. Yeah, it’s about as awesome as it sounds. It later became available on the original Playstation but nothing beats playing it at the arcade.
Let’s see, how do I segue back into talking about Mortal Engines… I know!
So, Mortal Engines!
See, flawless transition.
Mortal Engines reminds me a lot of the Matrix. Hold your horses, I’m not talking about the good Matrix movie, I’m talking about the lesser sequels or more accurately, Matrix Revolutions.
I do think this film is better than Revolutions, but it has that same feel to it, like you know you’re watching something that is a bit of a spectacle, yet isn’t as good as it should be or as much as it wants to you believe it is.
So basically, it’s Waterworld.
It’s Waterworld mixed with some YA novel elements. I say some but it’s basically a YA book turned movie. It felt like I got some Maze Runner crossed with my Mad Max.
The Maze Runner franchise is the better of the YA movie adaptations, but leave Mad Max out of it.
I started seeing a lot of different comparisons to other movies and shows while watching Mortal Engines, Into the Badlands is a major one, especially once Chinese lady Elvis shows up to show off her badass martial arts skills.
Another film which isn’t at all like Mortal Engines but is in one specific way is Dune. And that one way is its cult status. I can possibly see people becoming diehard fans of Mortal Engines. Unlike say something like Ready Player One, a film that was pretty forgettable once leaving the theater, the film’s biggest ambition being to toss pop culture references at you.
The only reference you got in Mortal Engines was this really dumb scene where they mention these Minion statues as being American deities.
I can see Mortal Engines being such a strange and bizarre theater going experience that it resonated with some in a way that only some cult classics can.
Maybe not Buckaroo Banzai levels, but… who the hell knows. People are strange and this movie is stranger.
Mortal Engines is just so damn weird! It’s so weird in fact, I can’t believe I was seeing it in theaters this day and age. Shit this crazy just doesn’t get made anymore. This is based off a book, so it still has that going for it.
Visually speaking, this seemed like something out of a comic book or manga.
But just the idea of whole cities getting put on tank tracks, that use Darwinism, survival of the fittest, to devour other mobile cities to survive is such an interesting and original concept.
Too bad you only get that concept for the first few minutes of the movie.
Humanity is driven to form these mobile cities when nukes on steroids devastate the population, destroying the old method of living.
Now everyone lives by what they called Municipal Darwinism, which means larger “predator” cities like London gobble up smaller towns on wheels to survive.
London has crossed the land bridge over to Europe and has set their sights on Asia, a completely untapped land of resources since they’ve hidden themselves behind a giant wall aptly called the Shield Wall. It’s this impassable wall surrounded by massive guns and guarded by flying airships.
The only way London can survive is if they get behind that wall. That means finding a way to bring the shield down.
On London, we have Hugo Weaving (Matrix), literally the only actor I recognized in this whole movie. You’d think with a big budget movie like this, taking the risks it’s taking, you’d at least have some names attached to get some butts in seats. But nope, this stars the guy from Bad Samaritan, a film I enjoyed but no one saw. And some Icelandic actress I’ve never heard of.
Stephen Lang was in it (Into the Badlands), but he’s hidden by a mask of CGI, playing Shrike, a cyborg that looks a lot like Nick Valentine from Fallout 4. At times though it seemed like they resurrected Jack Palance’s corpse from City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold.
Old technology has been outlawed or at least closely guarded, notably the dangerous tech like the energy weapon called MEDUSA that started the Sixty Minute War, or ended it I guess, since after the bombs dropped that was it for civilization.
Worried this dangerous tech could ever be used again, they are safe guarded by people like Tom, the museum curator. While London goes after a small mining settlement, Tom shows Katherine around. She is looking for anything to help her better understand the ancients (us presently).
Tom shows her his stash of old tech, even the more dangerous stuff he keeps hidden behind a false wall because lately the more dangerous stuff has started disappearing from his lab.
Meanwhile, a young girl with a red scarf over her face takes shelter on the mining settlement London is currently pursuing. They try to get away but London is just too massive and are quickly harpooned and brought inside to be dismantled. The people, I guess were added to their growing population.
Which seems counterproductive, right? Why not solve your food issues by turning them into food? Harsh, I know, but if you have thousands upon thousands to feed, you have to come up with some way to survive in this wasteland. Or pull a Snowpiercer and make everyone eat grounded up roaches, made into protein bars.
Speaking of the wasteland, this isn’t much of one. Trees are still green and growing, so is the grass. Nothing seems to have been harmed during the Sixty Minute War but the cities. But you can easily rebuild cities, especially if you have the knowhow to build them on massive tank tracks.
London is for the most part being led by Thaddeus Valentine, Hugo Weaving’s character, the father to Katherine, who is currently with Tom in the lower decks to make sure no good old tech was tossed into the grinder to help feed the engines.
Thaddeus is portrayed as this man of the people, working on developing an energy source that can help London survive.
He meets Tom and the two seem to hit it off, so does Tom and Katherine, but don’t worry, it’s never touched on at all, Tom’s love interest is Hester Shaw, the red scarf girl onboard the now sieged settlement.
She gets past customs with a blade, setting her sights on Thaddeus. She manages to stab him in the side, only wounding him.
Tom chases after Hester… I’m not sure why he runs after her. He isn’t a guard or anything, he’s the nerdy old tech guy that rummages through the trash, not chase after assassins.
Through most of this film I kept wondering why he’s a character in this movie. It seemed to me like the only reason he was there was to give Hester a love interest. Yet the two of them never do more than glance at each other from time to time.
Tom traps her in a dumping area where all the leftover garbage poops out. She falls off, but not before telling Tom Thaddeus killed her mother.
When Thaddeus catches up to them, Tom mentions she was talking silly talk, which results in Thaddeus pulling a THIS IS SPARTA! dropkick off the ship… tank… whatever you want to call these things.
Bevis Pod, god these names, Bevis saw Thaddeus push Tom but is keeping quiet. He is also slightly set up to be Katherine’s new love interest, but like a few characters in this movie he just disappears after a while and we never see him again.
He tells Katherine what he saw and that gets her to look closer at her father, more importantly, what he is building in London’s massive cathedral.
Tom and Hester survive falling out of the poop chute. Tom has never left London, so he has no idea where to go or what to do. He has some minor backstory about his parents dying in an accident that was never fully touched on. I thought maybe it might lead into more of Thaddeus covering things up, not no. They do mention that Tom really wanted to be a pilot, but changed his mind once his parents died.
So now obviously he’s going to have to save the day by piloting something.
The two of them traverse the giant track marks left in the earth, hopefully to find London again. But they are quickly surrounded by more waste landers looking to eat them or worse.
They manage to get away with the aid of this centipede looking tank thing that buries underground. You can tell right away something is off, I mean the room they get to sleep in is clearly just a cell.
While confined to their cell, Hester tells the story about how Thaddeus left her face scarred and killed her mom. Her mom Pandora (hold off on you eye rolling for just a second) was an archaeologist who found old tech in America. She had a close relationship with Thaddeus until she found something at the dig site that he desperately wanted. A box that operates the energy weapon MEDUSA. Yeah, Pandora’s box… yeesh.
Tom and Hester are taken to the slave market, where they are about to be sold for meat. Thankfully Asian lady Elvis shows up to save the day. Her pompadour is so ridiculous looking. It’s hilariously stupid.
I mentioned briefly about Shrike. He’s a cyborg hell bent of finding Hester, we learn later that he raised her after she escaped Thaddeus all those years ago. He saw how sad she was and wanted to make her like him, so she’d stop remembering all the bad things. The offer seems appealing but has a change of heart once she learns London has crossed the land bridge into Europe.
Now Shrike wants to bring her back so he can turn her into a cyborg like him. But once he sees that she loves Tom, a surprise to me since like I said, the only hit at any kind of feelings these two have for each other are a few glances here and there. But hey, she grew up being raised by a robot, so maybe this whole love thing is that of like a 12 year old getting her first crush.
Lady Elvis is Anna Fang, a wanted criminal, leader of the Anti-Traction League. A group against putting cities on tank tracks.
What connection does she have with Hester? Well, Lady Elvis was “friends” with Hester’s mom and has been looking for her ever since the attack.
Hester’s mom left her with a pendant, so obviously inside the pendant is the bump drive that can shutdown the MEDUSA energy weapon. They basically telegraphed this so little kids could follow. Just about everything is. There are no shocks or twists… the closest we came was finding out why Shrike was after her.
The film is basically on rails after that. Pun intended!
Tom and Hester are taken to the Shield Wall to warn them of London’s energy weapon, London arrives and blasts a few holes in the wall. It does some damage, but they needed to hit it 4 times with it. Either that’s one hell of a wall or maybe this weapon isn’t as powerful as it was hyped up to be.
Hester finds the shutdown key, Tom and lady Elvis fly to London to stop the weapon, lady Elvis dies, Tom has to pilot the ship, Hester shuts down the weapon and Katherine… I don’t remember what she does, she kind of disappears from the film until the very end.
Thaddeus pulls a Luke, I’m your father on Hester, another thing we saw coming a mile away. Tom blows up Thaddeus’ ship before he can escape, crash landing in the path of London’s tracks, getting run over.
That’s basically it, Tom and Hester apparently are now in love, even though we don’t even get a kiss out of them . I think they graduated to hug, but that’s it for showing they have feelings for one another. They might as well be brother and sister.
Other characters are kind of forgotten about, so fuck it. That’s Mortal Engines.
I didn’t hate this movie, I didn’t love it either, which is my main issue. A film like this is something I should love, but it was too bland. It was too bland for a concept this original. It didn’t live up to the premise.
The YA stuff got in the way of what this film could or should have been. A lot of that would have been fixed if the main characters were slightly older. From the trailers I for some reason thought this starred Emily Blunt as the Hester character. I don’t know why I thought that, maybe the same reason I thought the name of the movie was Immortal Engine.
Having someone like Emily Blunt, who pulled off badass in Edge of Tomorrow would have made a world of difference. I’d also scrap the Tom character or at least not have him tag along with Hester. Or if you do, give him a much bigger reason to be on this journey, hell, to be in this movie.
He didn’t even seem to care that Thaddeus tried to kill him. His goal through most of the film isn’t to get revenge like Hester, but to just go home, back to London. Sorry, but that’s kind of a shit goal to have. He’s the golden retriever from Homeward Bound.
Characters would show up or be introduced randomly, then quickly forgotten about. Bevis Pod is a great example, he pairs up with Katherine then he just vanishes, I’m not even really sure what happened to him.
Even Katherine just vanishes and doesn’t return until the very end where she briefly pops up with the rest of the London citizens to find refuge behind the Shield Wall.
I liked Shrike, how he was this unstoppable killing machine that basically destroyed everything he came in contact with. He was also the only sympathetic character as he was also the most complicated character.
Scarp the Tom character and just have Hester Shrike, would have been way cooler. Her like unstoppable cyborg that gets her out of tough spots she can’t get out of on her own… much cooler movie. Plus, Shrike doesn’t have a laughable pompadour to point and stare at.
I give Mortal Engines a… RENT rating. But a film like this, where the major positives rely mainly on the visuals, seeing this in theaters isn’t the worst idea. I don’t think you’ll leave angry just maybe slightly disappointed.