A vengeful assassin and a historian try to stop a war in Mortal Engines. It only took sixty minutes for humanity to be on the edge of extinction. In a world devastated by war, the remaining human population has been divided between those who live on mobile traction cities and those who choose to remain on static settlements. Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) is a historian on the traction city of London, who attempts to stop an assassin named Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) from killing London’s head historian Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving). However, after learning that Thaddeus had killed Hester’s mother, Tom finds himself abandoned in the wasteland and is forced to accompany Hester on her quest for revenge. The two receive assistance from the Anti-Traction League lead by Anna Fang (Jihae) and are pursued by an undead cyborg named Shrike (Stephen Lang).
Mortal Engines is an adaption of the 2001 young adult novel by Philip Reeve, written and produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, with Academy Award winning Visual Effects supervisor, and longtime Peter Jackson collaborator, Christian Rivers making his debut in the director’s chair. The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that has been devastated by a Quantum Energy weapon, known as M.A.D.U.S.A., which destroyed the bulk of human civilization in just and hour. A millennium has passed since this war and the remaining population travel in large mobile cities and collect various “old world artifacts,” such as iPhones and statues of the Minions from Despicable Me.
At the core of story of Mortal Engines is the duo of Hester Shaw and Tom Natsworthy. Hester, played by Icelander actress Hera Hilmar, is a young woman both physically and mentally scarred, who things of nothing but the desire to get revenge on Thaddeus Valentine for the murder of Hester’s mother Pandora (Caren Pistorius). Tom, on the other hand, is a somewhat naive low-level historian, who finds himself having to accompany Hester. However, when it is learned that Valentine is using old world technology to rebuilt M.A.D.U.S.A., the stakes are raised and Tom and Hester have to join the Anti-Traction League in an effort to prevent the start of a war.
Admittedly, Mortal Engines has the typical “hero’s journey” narrative that we have seen on countless occasions before. Indeed, as the plot of the film develops, it is hard not to notice to the similarities to Star Wars, particularly in the final battle, which involves a band of rebels using flying machines to fight back against an all-powerful weapon. However, Mortal Engines also has elements unique to its own, particularly the very steampunk nature of the Traction Cities, which includes a very impressive chase scene in the film’s opening minutes.
While it’s easy to excuse Mortal Engines as “just another young adult adaptation,” I do think that the involvement of Peter Jackson with the film helps to bring the film more in line with higher-end adaptations like The Hunger Games, as opposed to forgotten and similarly-titled films, such as The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, which co-incidentally featured Robert Sheehan in the cast. Altogether, I have to say that Mortal Engines makes for perfectly fine popcorn entertainment.