MISSION. 'Mortal Engines' sees Heather Shaw on a mission to stop Thaddeus Valentine. All screenshots from YouTube/Universal Pictures

Like most films based on young adult novels, Christian Rivers' Mortal Engines astounds with its premise.

Several years after humanity has obliterated itself with weapons of mass destruction, survivors live in moving cities that roam the continent, hunting for smaller towns for fuel and citizens. The film opens with London, a metropolis grotesquely preying on a small Bavarian town that houses Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), a girl on a mission to assassinate Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), one of London's leaders who has a nefarious plan in the works. 

Repeating itself

The images are potentially powerful.

When the gas-guzzling city proudly bearing Britain's Union Jack opens itself up to literally swallow a powerless little town, with the succeeding images of that town's citizenry being forced to let go of their cultural artifacts and assimilate, it speaks of the horrors of colonization rearing its ugly head even in the film's imagined dystopia. The film's core conflict of a power-hungry demagogue with dreams of world domination, while overly familiar to the point of being cliché, is startling given the backdrop of history repeating itself.

If only Mortal Engines fully embraced the implications of its promising premise, then it could have been more than the overcrowded spectacle that it is now.

As it is, Rivers' debut film has all the razzle and dazzle of an expensive blockbuster but doesn't have anything else to do with all of its visual splendor other than to distract its audience from how emotionally shallow the entire exercise is. It isn't so much that the material is bereft of narrative threads pregnant with sentiment. It is just that the film seems clueless as to how to effectively mine them out of the plot.

Mortal Engines is so dogged in its desire to push the narrative forward as fast and bombastic as possible that the film barely has any room to breathe.

Shoddy writing

Mortal Engines is also quite shoddily written.

The screenplay written by Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, and Fran Walsh is laden with lines that are stale and mawkish. The film endeavors for the same epic feel as The Lord of the Rings films where the same lines would have worked if only to add humor and levity to a narrative where so much is at stake. However, Mortal Engines doesn't really earn its frequent attempts to overdo its youthful verve. The characters are never endearing enough to be able to pull off mouthing pieces of dialogue that action heroes would have turned into quotable quotes.

Everything really boils down to Rivers' haphazard direction.

Sure, his film looks immense and epic. Sadly, it feels very small. It seems hurried, because it rushes recklessly from one setpiece to another without allowing its audience to absorb the details and to understand its characters and their motivations. The romance between Hester and Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), the nerdy museum assistant who suddenly finds himself out of London, is abrupt. The dramatic side story between Hester and Shrike (Stephen Lang), the resurrected soldier who is hunting down Hester, could have been more powerful if there were actual focus in its presentation.

Lousy thud

Mortal Engines crashes and burns because it is being driven without a clear end in mind.

It is all about the sights and sounds, neglecting that along the way, emotions should be evolving so that everything just works when it reaches its conclusion. Sadly, the film meets its end with a lousy thud. – Rappler.com

Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas' Tirad Pass.

Since then, he's been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema. 

Source: Rappler

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