I can see how this might be a pretty cool idea on paper, and might have succeeded as a novel, or better yet, a graphic novel (in fact it’s a whole series). But as a movie, it’s really just a bloat of CGI and very little narrative. In the years beyond civilizations collapse (presumably), London is now a predatory city on wheels. So, you know, a very large monster truck of a city that…eats other hapless cities? The why and when and who and how are all vitally important but completely neglected. We’re simply thrown into a story already in progress with all the juicy details left out. Even Michael Bay devotes a full 30 seconds of exposition about where the Transformers come from and why they care so much about dumb little Earthlings. This movie just drops you into the middle of a battle scene expecting you to care but not really caring itself whether or not you do.
Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) is a young woman with a scar and a secret. When her little city is devoured and destroyed by London, you might think she’d be crushed herself -emotionally if not physically. The rest of her citizens become refugees on London, but it turns out London was Hester’s destination all along, and she’s come to strike down its primary architect and greatest celebrity, Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving). We don’t know why Hester is so dead set against the celebrated Valentine, but her cause is joined by nerdy Tom (Robert Sheehan) and a dangerous outlaw named Anna Fang (Jihae).
Mortal Engines is crowded with visuals but devotes no time to character or theme. It’s so busy setting itself up for future sequels it forgets to be good right now. The actors aren’t bad but they’re main preoccupation is jumping over steampunk set pieces, with little else to work with.
Mortal Engines wants to be, and could have been, like Mad Max meets Snowpiercer, except those movies are good and this one is just 129 minutes that would have been better spent feeding quarters into a broken vending machine.