Mortal Engines (2018) Review: Asia Is the Future

Mortal Engines succeed creating a visually satisfying steampunk world through its beautiful visual effects and intriguing world building. It also tackles interesting issues about the misuse of technology and colonization. However, it's not enough to cover up its weaknesses which makes the movie relatively forgettable.

Adapted from Philipe Reeve's novel, Mortal Engines sets hundreds of years since the collapse of civilization where humans live in moving giant steampunk cities. In a world where advanced technology is a rare thing, the lord of London, Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), plans to use the advanced technology he found for personal goals. Our protagonist, Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) and Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheenan) with the help of the most wanted criminal, Anna Fang (Jihae), try to thwart Valentine's plan which could destroy human civilization all over again.

The movie uses Peter Jackson's great name in its promo, but it turns out that the Oscar-winning director serves as the producer and writer along with his longtime collaborators Philipa Boyens and Fran Walsh. Meanwhile, Christian Rivers, a storyboard artist who has also worked with Jackson before, takes the director role.
Mortal Engines, via IMDb
River's direction felt is strongly influenced by Jackson's since he has worked under the director from time to time. There's a familiar Lord of the Rings feel in the movie. Even the costumes and sets are made by top quality just like Jackson's movies.

Directed by a storyboard artist, Mortal Engines offers majestic visuals of a post-apocalyptic steampunk world since the movie started. You really need to watch these scenes on the biggest screen.

In the future, instead of living in static cities, humans live in cities that can move like the castle in Ghibli's Howl's Moving Castle. And the movie opens with grand spectacles of one of those giant moving cities hunts smaller cities.

London as a predator city hunts defenseless cities in search of resources. This scene reminds of Mad Max: Fury Road car chase scenes which even the drumbeat in its scoring also sounds like the George Miller's masterpiece.
Anna Fang (Jihae), via IMDb
With the current movie trends, Mortal Engines also has a diverse cast and full of cool female characters. These female characters undeniably steal the show especially Anna Fang (Jihae) who looks like a cool anime character.

The misuse of technology in Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines sets in a post-apocalyptic world and tells about the catastrophic consequences of the misuse of technology by ignorant humans. Somehow it feels it's criticizing us humans who live in the present. Sophisticated technology does not guarantee the intelligence of its users.

As the result, human civilization was destroyed and collapse to the point where we are no longer able to produce electronic devices. Smartphones are artifacts and Minion statues are art masterpieces.

Mortal Engines also tells us that a man who has never learned from history is the main villain of world civilization. When Thaddeus Valentine is supposed to know better the dangers of the ancient but advanced technology he found, he still wants to use it for his selfish reason, even if it would collapse the civilization for the second time.

Colonization and Asia is the future

Mortal Engines also tackles issues about colonization, especially about the British who colonized for natural and human resources. The predator city of London which is very powerful hunts smaller cities to eat its resources.

However, the occupation isn't depicted as cruelty. When London has eaten the small cities, many of their citizens are happier because now they could live in a more advanced and prosper city like London.

Then, when all the resources started to run out, the colonizers set their eyes to the new unoccupied land where its people live peacefully, namely Shan Gao. Having abundant resources and walls like China, Shan Gao represents Asia.
mortal engines movie review
Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), via IMDb
Unfortunately, those amazing visuals, intriguing world building, beautiful costumes, and interesting issues are not enough to cover up the movie's weaknesses. It's so unfortunate because Mortal Engines has huge potential to succeed like Peter Jackson's movies.

Mortal Engines fails to explore the characters so that it makes its simple premise boring. The backstory fails to reinforce and explain clearly the motives of some important characters. I couldn't really care about these characters even if I really wanted to.

The movie also has a disappointing final scene. When the scene is supposed to create an emotional and epic moment, mediocre dialogues and poorly executed sequences make it anti-climatic.

Lastly, if the sequel ever happens - considering the movie's poor performance at the box office - the only reason I would see it in theaters is only because of the intriguing visuals and world building, not the characters.

Rating: 3/5
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Director: Christian Rivers
Writers: Fran Walsh (screenplay), Philippa Boyens (screenplay), Peter Jackson (screenplay)
Stars: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving

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