Mortal Engines – a journey of epic proportions

Last Saturday I went to the cinema for the first time in many moons. It was all prompted by me watching a trailer of Mortal Engines as an ad before a YouTube video. For once, I was so glad that I didn’t skip the ad.

I got immediately excited after watching the little teaser. My excitement has reached new heights when I briefly googled the film and found out that one of the themes that appear in it is steampunk.

Listen – a girl loves steampunk. And whenever I get to submerge in anything in this theme, I’m just the happiest.

So, what’s the premise of this film?

Over one thousand years from today the shape of the world has completely changed from what we know today. After a Sixty Minutes War (how???) a giant chunk of humanity has met its demise, and the rest of us had to learn to live in this new, deserted, unfamiliar world.

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The shape of the world has changed, and so have the means of travelling. It has been collectively decided that cities would be put on wheels.

Do you remember Howl’s Moving Castle? I do. I’ve seen it tens of times for sure. Now imagine the castle itself – a gigantic living space fueled by magic and steam, moving across the land like a mechanical beast out of a fever dream. Now imagine the castle is about fifty times its original size. That’s just about the size of any major city in Mortal Engines. And although magic itself is non-existent in this world – instead we have various technological solutions – it sure feels like the cities are fueled by magic.

But we don’t get to be kept in oblivion – soon we are introduced to the machinery of London. This city is going to be one of the most important locations in the film, and a home to our protagonist, as well as our villain.

About villains – agent Smith from the Matrix trilogy is back, and we still don’t like him. Or at least it’s Hugo Weaving, portraying the mayor of post-apocalyptic London, that is back to being a villain. And god, is his character an asshole. Of course, I’m not going to spoil this movie for you, but know this – the part he’s going to play in the story is way bigger in the end, that you can imagine.

Who else do we have in the cast? The two light-skinned leads, one – Tom Natsworthy, a Londoner interested in the “ancient” technology from circa 21st century, and Hester – a strange girl filled with rage and intense thirst for revenge who sneaks on London one fateful day. The two of them have an interesting dynamic, which I never knew I missed in Hollywood-bound productions. It’s nice to see something like that onscreen.

While Tom is a very common “confused good boy” type, Hester is a lot edgier from the start. At first her need for revenge is the only thing that describes her to us, which could get completely stale if she stayed the same throughout the entire production. Thankfully, as the plot advances, she loses some of this edge and gains more real, fleshed out personality. In the end, it’s Hester that became one of my favourite characters in the film, and it’s really her story that drives the movie until the moment where it leaves us.

Other characters from London are the mayor’s daughter and Tom’s friend. That’s about it. There’s also this one annoying guy who sometimes turns out to be useful, but frankly I didn’t deem him to be an interesting or important character.

Things get impossibly interesting when Tom and Hester end up on the ground, away from London. After a couple of misadventures, they end up on an airship, who’s captain is my wife Anna Fang, a bad ass Asian woman portrayed by a Korea-born musician Jihae. She’s easily my favourite character from the film, you guys. We need many more bad ass Asian female characters, and hopefully Anna Fang is going to be one of the ones to turn the tide here.

All in all, you won’t see many (if any) people of colour in the film until the plot moves us to the airship. From then on there are more of them and I couldn’t be happier about this bit of representation.

Now you could probably be wondering about my use of the word “epic” in the title of this review. It seems to be one of these words that gets thrown around like there’s no tomorrow. Really good pizza is epic, butt chugging is epic, cool little tricks on the skateboard are epic as well.

Sure. But you know what? This film, above all else, really deserves to be called “epic”, and I can vouch for this. You see, with its impossibly vast spaces outside of the wheeled cities, with the monumental cities themselves, with many other locations of gargantuan sizes this film is the very definition of “epic”.

The only thing about this movie that could’ve been better, and a very important one to boot, is the plot. It just… Something about it really bugs me. Well, okay,maybe not really REALLY bugs me, but I cannot help feeling like things could’ve been so much better. Maybe it’s the fact that they tried to stuff different storylines into two hours, each of them resolving at the end, or maybe the initial idea for the story wasn’t that well-written?

I don’t know. I did hear that this film is based on a book, but I’ve never read it, so I’ve got no idea about the quality of the source material. Either way, I think that a story that is advertised to be set in a steampunk world should have a lot more actual steampunk than it does here. Tom is into old technologies as I already said, and various things connected to those stay relevant throughout the entire film, but I still feel like the movie lacked this specific element.

Okay, since we got that out of the way maybe we should talk about the visuals, no?

Although he is not the director this time, but Peter Jackson, known for directing the Lord of The Rings as well as the three-parts adaptation of The Hobbit, did put his hands on the production of this film, and you will be clearly able to see that. The vast, desolated exteriors, the dirty, crowded cities monstrous in size, the flying ships and idyllic locations on the outskirts of the world make each scene really seem nothing like the world we live in today, even though it’s all set on the same planet, just 1100 years from today. It’s a world from a dark, futuristic fairy tale.

If you are to any extent a fan of monumental, fantasy-inspired architecture, this movie could leave you in complete awe. From bright, elegant chambers of the mayor’s apartment, to the tiny, dirty, dark interiors of moving, mechanical centipedes, and finally to the majestic, beetle-like flying ship with bright red wings, there really is plenty to keep your eye on.

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And another thing very important to consider if you’re planning on going to see this movie –there is a lot happening there, and when you look at the structure of the film from start to finish, the creators left us very little breathing room to slowly take in important information. In general, I would say that the film is executing the show, not tell rule quite well. There aren’t a lot of scenes where the characters sit down to talk about the past, thus serving every little detail of their lives on a silver platter.

I’d say that whether you have read the book or not, seeing this film is a really good idea either way. Prepare for a Red Bull and steam-fueled adventure that is going to leave you in a daze, wanting to jump on a flying ship immediately and sail across the skies towards adventure. Don’t worry about depth – you will find it if you care of it – and just sit back and enjoy the show. Because let’s be honest – most of us go to the cinema purely for entertainment. And this right here, is entertainment on speed that is going to knock your socks off.


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