Mortal Engines (PG)
Starring Hera Hilmar, Hugo Weaving, Robert Sheehan
Directed by Christian Rivers
Mortal Engines Is a fast-paced flick. Usually, that’s a good thing, but not in this case. It’s also action-packed. That’s usually a good thing, but it isn’t here. The movie doesn’t give you a rush; it just feels rushed and impatient. As if the filmmakers have something to hide and they don’t want you to find out what exactly they did wrong.
Within the first three minutes, a narrator explains how The Sixty Minute War reduced Mother Earth into a barren wasteland. Then cue to 1,000 years later where humanity lives on giant moving metropolises (picture Howling’s Moving Castle meets Mad Max), with London the main superpower which goes around scoffing down smaller mobile (or “traction”) cities, scrapping them for spare parts and enslaving its people. In other words, the new Brits are doing what their colonial forebears did back in the day.
Anyhoo, long story short, London is like this evil empire and Hera Hilmar’s scar-faced heroine Hester Shaw is the only one who can stop its aggressive expansion plans. But first she has a personal score to settle with the resident mad scientist, played by Hugo Weaving, again channelling menace through his unsettling brows.
The heavy-(trash) metal fantasy — produced and co-written by Peter Jackson and directed by Christian Rivers, the Oscar-winning visual effects artist of King Kong who’s worked with Jackson since 1992’s Braindead — is adapted from Philip Reeve’s 2001 book, the first in the series of four.
Really, just the first book? While I’ve never read the books, it feels like the filmmakers are cramming four novels’ worth of narrative into a two-hour frame.
There’s a sense, from the way the plot moves along briskly but perfunctorily, the movie just wants to get it over and done with — no fuss, no awe. And what ended on-screen is dour, dank and, considering the creative titans behind it, strangely flat.
There’s another problem: Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar is just not that engaging a star. She’s like the equivalent to Jai Courtney, the Australian hunk whose blandness kinda ruined Terminator Genisys and A Good Day to Die Hard.
Her lack of appeal is telling in Shaw’s budding romance with Robert Sheehan’s London city boy, and a Bride of Frankenstein sub-plot involving Shrike (Avatar villain Stephen Lang wasted in a mo-cap performance), a stalk-y cyborg who conveniently shows up to crank up the suspense whenever things start to slow down.
Action-wise, Hilmar doesn’t even do a lot of ass-kicking; most of the heavy-lifting is done by South Korean musician Jihae. She plays Anna Fang, the dead-serious Han Solo-esque figure with a sturdy hairdo that can withstand scuffles and explosions.
Quick question: Why hasn’t anyone made a movie about post-apocalyptic hair-salons and fashion stylists? Seriously, what kind of hair products do they use?
If you come to Mortal Engines for the special visual effects, you’ll be disappointed too. They’re a mixed bag, at best. Sure, there’s plenty of digital visual trickery, but they aren’t that special.
It pains me to say that because I’ve seen the behind-the-scenes featurettes and how much blood, sweat and tears the artisans poured into their creations. You just wish their works are in service of a better movie, preferably one that isn’t rushed. (**)