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"Mortal Engines" Review

Despite splashing Peter Jackson's name all over the marketing to leverage his Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit fame though he wasn't the director (that would be Christian Rivers), Mortal Engines ended up one of 2018's biggest flops, grossing a meager $83M worldwide against a reported $100M budget plus whatever marketing costs were. Based on the first of a quartet of dystopian future YA novels, there won't be any sequels, that's for sure.

Set over 1000 years in the future (the way they disclose this detail is cute) after the 60-Minute War eradicated most of humanity, the remnants live on moving cities and villages eking a hardscrabble existence with a watch on the horizon for predator cities like the mountainous London which run down and scoop up smaller cities for their resources.

After one such ingestion, a masked girl, Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar, me neither), sneaks a weapon through refugee intake and it just so happens London's de facto boss, Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving, the only name actor in this movie), is there and she wants to kill him because backstory vendetta. She manages to stab him, but is stopped by a young man, Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan, also me neither and looks like Ian Somerhalder and Eddie Redmayne had a son) who attempts to apprehend her as she flees into the bowels of London. Before she drops down into a trash exhaust funnel, she explains to him that Valentine killed her mother and scarred her face, but when he tells Valentine what she said, he gets shoved down the chute himself.

Now on foot in the trenches torn up my London's massive treads, Tom learns from Hester all sorts of backstory and do you think perhaps these crazy kids may fall in love? Meanwhile, Valentine is building some superweapon up in St. Peter's Cathedral atop London with the intention of breaching the Shield Wall protecting what was China. (Gotta get that international box office bait these days.) Fighting from there is the Anti-Traction League including the wanted Anna Fang (Jihae Kim, who is so androgynous that I looked up whether she was transgender) who flies a wild airship.

While the story is adequate enough - it was adapted by Jackson and his LOTR co-writers - to make you care enough for the characters, what really held my attention throughout Mortal Engines was the eye-popping production and costume design and visual effects (check out the VFX breakdown reel below) which brought this somewhat ridiculous steampunk-cum-Hunger Games milleau to vibrant life. I'm genuinely surprised that none of these categories garnered Oscar nominations and I felt sorry for the armies of artists who poured their talents into environments that were barely glimpsed, but without the world would've been empty.

Visually exceptional, but merely OK otherwise, it's not a big surprise it didn't blow up the box office, but it's still worth watching in HD on a nice home theater.

Score: 7/10. Rent it on Blu-ray.


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