Mortal Engines

Certificate: 12A

Starring: Hera Hilmar, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Robert Sheehan

Release date: 2018

2 out of 5


The first of author Philip Reeves’ steam punk quartet of novels is adapted for the screen with The Lord Of The Rings’ Peter Jackson as one of the producers. Directed by Christian Rivers, who worked as a storyboard artist on many of Jackson’s movies, it certainly looks impressive, but all the eye-widening sets in the world can’t make up for the fact that it is deathly dull and annoyingly derivative.

Hundred of years in the future the earth as we know it has been destroyed during some sort of war that isn’t clearly explained. The land is scorched and little grows there, so people have taken to living in mobile towns that are plundered for their parts by predator cities that lumber along on wheels squishing everything in their path.

Young Hester Shaw (Hilmar, making the best of the cliché-ridden dialogue she’s been given) gets scooped up by the mighty moving city of London and comes face to face with Valentine (Weaving), the man she believes murdered her mother. Joining forces with exiled Londoner Tom (Sheehan), she is determined to discover what evil plan Valentine is making that could threaten everyone before she has her revenge.

Or something. Even when it is clear what Valentine is up to, it doesn’t make much sense and the characters are all so one-note you don’t care if he’s about to kill them anyway. People pop up and then disappear (presumably they are off yelling at their agents), while talented actors like Patrick Malahide and Stephen Lang as the sinister Shrike are woefully underused. And we can’t even talk about the scene where, in the middle of the action, the hero wanders off just so he can steal a nice new jacket.

It seems the filmmakers were spending so much time making the movie look good with their junkyard capital of moving scrap topped by St Paul’s Cathedral that they forgot to make it interesting or believable. Instead it’s a sorry mess that borrows from Mad Max and Brazil as well as just about every teen dystopian movie you can think of, while stealing flying sequences straight out of Star Wars and having a female bounty hunter (Jihae) who looks like she has watched The Matrix one too many times. At least they steal from the best.

The ending clearly sets everything up for a series of films based on Reeves’ other books but on the basis of the first movie, it would perhaps be better if those movie adaptations were left to gather dust on the shelf.

Is Mortal Engines suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...

This is a 12A certificate film aimed at older kids and adults. There are some scenes that younger children may find disturbing including:
a scene in which it is shown how a character has become facially disfigured
a scene in which a character is thrown to their apparent death
scenes involving the character Shrike, who may frighten the under-10s.

There are also numerous scenes involving fights, guns and explosions in a fantasy setting.

If you like this, why not try: