Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 400-Word Review: Mortal Engines

Another attempt to start a dystopian franchise can't deliver on its strong premise.




Photo by Mark Pokorny / Universal Pictures and MRC.
 

The dystopian epic “Mortal Engines” — a gaudy mannequin of a movie — is the latest big-screen attempt to create a successor to the “Hunger Games” series. Even as similar franchises falter, stumble and fall (I don’t think we’re going to be wrapping up that “Divergent” business), studios continue to throw impossible budgets and inordinate hype behind tales of post-adolescents rescuing wasted worlds.

This one has a compelling premise, at least: After ecological disaster spurred by a war of mutual destruction, the surviving humans have retrofitted their cities into scavenging, gargantuan tanks, wandering the ruined planet in search of scant resources. In a thrilling opening sequence, mighty London chases down a hardscrabble Bavarian village, eventually consuming it whole and claiming its citizens as involuntary refugees.

Now that’s an opening! “Mortal Engines” comes out of the gate strong, establishing an imaginative world and visual language.

Then it is forced to come up with a story, which it is ill-equipped to do.

Given a script adaptation by the “Lord of the Rings” power trio of Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson, “Mortal Engines” focuses on a pair of mismatched early-20s survivors. Tom (Robert Sheehan) is a low-level functionary with a fetish for history; Hester (Hera Hilmar) is a scrappy orphan out to avenge her mother’s death.

Unfortunately, the guy who committed the matricide, Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), is a higher-up in London’s vague political structure. After Hester (ineffectually) stabs him, Thaddeus chucks both her and Tom off the city. Will they learn to tolerate and perhaps understand one another? (Yes.) Will they find allies in this hardscrabble world? (Obviously.) Will they fall for one another? (Of course. What, are you new here?)

“Mortal Engines” series scribe Philip Reeve is less a storyteller than a curator of cliche. This tale — which I should note is supposedly quite different than the book, which I will absolutely not bother to read — is a homemade quilt of repurposed story beats. No character in this film will do something you haven’t seen a very similar character do in the past.

One scene manages to rip off the ending of two different “Star Wars” movies at the exact same time.

Inexperienced director Christian Rivers isn’t deft enough to tease intrigue out of “Mortal Engines” once it becomes clear that the source material has little to offer. The result is a sad, if not surprising, disappointment.

My Rating: 4/10
 


 
Note: this review originally appeared on Dec. 14, 2018.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Recommended Pittsburgh Eating: 4 Recent Dishes I Loved

PM Dining Critic Hal B. Klein says corned beef inside an import business, Sichuan smashed eggplants, smoked chicken wings and a cornbread dessert have his attention.

How to Celebrate the Moon Landing Anniversary in Pittsburgh

To celebrate Apollo 11’s golden anniversary, several local events are set to take place, from film screenings to new exhibits and more.

5 Pittsburgh Vintage Homes Stores You'll Want to Explore

PM Editoral Intern Ellie Pesetsky shares some of her favorite up-cycled furniture and home decor stores in and around Pittsburgh.

Eleven Couples to be Married after Love at First Bite

Wedding bells will be chiming for multiple couples this weekend … and it’s taking place at Primanti Bros. in the Strip District.

Pop Culture Pop Up Bars Are Here to Stay

Nintendo-themed Level Up is in Market Square for another week, but if you miss it, you can catch the Pokémon-themed bar coming this fall.

How Scary is the New Steel Curtain Coaster at Kennywood?

The ride claims records for the world’s tallest looping coaster and tallest inversion; it also has more inversions than any coaster in North America. We rode it this morning. Here's what we have to say.

The 400-Word Review: Point Blank

Netflix's action thriller is forgettable, but serves well as a quick throwback.

Pittsburgh Marks the First Stop of the New Whiskey Rebellion Trail

Think the story of American whiskey begins in Kentucky? Think again.

Pirates’ Possibilities Include Contention in Surprising Season’s Second Half

It hasn’t gone according to the original script, but the Pirates have found a way to stay relevant — and may yet be capable of finishing what they started.

The 400-Word Review: Stuber

There are laughs in the new buddy comedy, but they're dragged down by bad decisions.

Cornbread, A New Soul Food Restaurant, Opens in an Unexpected Location

Adenah Bayoh and Elzadie “Zadie” Smith bring their fast-casual concept to the West Mifflin Walmart.

The Park After Dark

Kennywood’s “Night Rider” tickets may be the best bet for many visitors.

The Best Tips for Finding a Wedding Photographer

There’s no need to stress about finding the best photographer thanks to these helpful tips from local professionals.

Pittsburgh Bartenders Bring the Garden to the Glass

Bartenders are using centrifugal force, tinctures and more to amplify and preserve the season's harvest.

Oakmont Glassware Company Looking to Join the Big Time

Amanda Lee began painting glasses in her basement to help pay for her college education. Today, she ships her products across the globe from a new, shabby-chic warehouse and gift shop.