Boy, this sequel to PENELOPE (2006) is not what I expected.
Kidding aside, the story looks like it’s about a young woman living in a post-apocalypse whose mother was killed years ago by her father and left her badly scarred. Now she’s on her own living in a world where entire cities are on wheels and devour other cities on wheels, leading to a confrontation between this woman and her father and the dark and evil overlord that controls him.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Hera Hilmar (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of), Robert Sheehan (BAD SAMARITAN  and GEOSTORM ), Hugo Weaving (HACKSAW RIDGE  and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER ), Jihae (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of), and Stephen Lang (UNCHARTED , HOSTILES , DON’T BREATHE , AVATAR , and upcoming films ROGUE WARFARE  and AVATAR 2 ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have Christian Rivers, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. Making for a red flag total of three writers, we have have Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson, all known for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films. Composing the score is Junkie XL, known for TOMB RAIDER (2018), DARK TOWER (2017), DEADPOOL (2016), MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015), and the upcoming ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL (2019). The cinematographer is Simon Raby, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. Finally, the editor (according to Wikipedia) is Jonno Woodford-Robinson. However, there’s no credited editor on IMDb, which I find odd. There is certainly an editor named Jonathan Woodford-Robinson, and is likely the same dude, but I won’t credit this person until I figure out the truth here.
Overall, I think this movie looks cool. I mean, cities on wheels devouring other cities, if nothing else, this is going to be a visual bonanza. As for the story and characters, I couldn’t say. I have no real expectations.
This is my honest opinion of: MORTAL ENGINES
Set in a post-apocalyptic future. Mankind destroyed itself, and in the wake that destruction came entire mobile cities, larger ones “devouring” smaller cities for their resources.
A young woman named Hester Shaw (Hera Hilman) has just survived a city being devoured by the great city, London. However, this turns out to be fortuitous as one of London’s more respected leaders, Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), the man who murdered her archaeologist mother Pandora (Caren Pistorius), after she unearthed a special piece of old technology. Taking the opportunity to assassinate him, she very nearly succeeds before a local young museum keeper, Thomas Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), attempts to save his life and bring in Hester in to justice. Their chase ends in her telling him about her mother’s murder and abandons London to the barren landscape. When Tom questions Valentine about this information, he kicks him off London in an attempt to end his life. However, he survives with Hester and the two begin a journey to find a way to get back and learn what Valentine is doing with the technology that he’s been gathering from the old world.
I’ll say this… it’s probably not a good movie. In fact, I wager it’s going to get many comparisons to 2015’s JUPITER ASCENDING, and they’re going to be well-founded. With all that said, I say that this movie is still… cool.
How can I possibly say that about this movie? Quite simply, I never got tired of the visual spectacle. I think I saw a review say that the special effects didn’t save this movie, but they absolutely did for me. I love the concept of entire metropolitan cities on wheels that dwarf trees like humans dwarf ants. My eyes never stopped widening and all I wanted was to keep seeing that. And see that I do. Gigantic chainsaws tearing through small cities, some fortresses designed like centipedes, there are even cities in the sky. And if that isn’t enough, there’s a robot zombie in this movie. I’m not even shitting you, a robot zombie. But we’ll get to him later. The sheer aesthetic of the world that these characters live in is a marvel in of itself. Had this been a better movie, I swear this world would be up there with the great sci-fi/fantasy universes. I’m clearly already there, but I’m guessing that most won’t agree, but I can’t help it. Every new location that I’m taken to, I want to see more of.
Robot zombies. Yes, this movie made that a thing now. Or at least, I hope it is. The robot zombie’s name is Shrike, played by Stephen Lang. He’s a CGI character, which I think is kind of a bummer, but he looks so damn awesome and intimidating. I mean, he looks almost exactly like Dr. Doom from FANT4STIC, but if was cooler. He looks like a fleshy metallic skeleton with glowing artificial green eyes. I’m getting chills just thinking about him. But one of the better parts about him is that he sort of serves the same role as the Nemesis from the video game RESIDENT EVIL 3. He’s got a one track mind and is hunting down Hester for unknown reasons. He’s freakishly tough enough to survive getting shot at, freakishly strong enough to throw his enemies through hard wood walls and floors, he’s about one of the most awesome characters in the movie.
<<<SPOILERS – highlight to reveal>>> [ Despite how derivative his design is, Shrike is a lot more interesting than this movie likely intended to make him. His history with Hester is that he found her when she was roaming the world all by herself and decided to take care of her. Turns out that he collected broken doll parts and put them back together. He was once a regular man, but at some point put his consciousness into a robot-like body, no longer having memories of his past life or any supposed emotions. But that’s clearly not the case as he takes in Hester. He protects her, he feeds her, he treats her surprisingly well. Mere months before the start of this movie, he knows that Hester is still in pain from her mother’s murder and offers to make her like him and be able to move on. She accepts the offer, but learns of Valentine’s location and goes on her way before fulfilling the promise she made to Shrike. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>
But it’s time to face the music. The truth of the matter is, this movie isn’t good, and it’s time to admit the problems.
I mentioned before that I wouldn’t be surprised if this movie gets compared to JUPITER ASCENDING, and this is because this movie throws so much at you. While the movie as a whole is paced well enough, there are more than a couple of scenes of pure exposition and… honestly, no one gives a shit. But that’s to be expected from sci-fi with a mythology. There are going to be scenes like that, so that just might be a personal thing. But what can’t be denied is how many characters this movie throws at you and few of them serve the narrative in any meaningful way. The movie’s main stars are heroes Hester and Thomas, and the villain Valentine. Simple. Then there’s Anna Fang (Jihae) who can be interpreted as a mentor figure to Hester. Fine enough, despite the fast that she doesn’t appear until the middle of the movie. But the movie also throws in characters, like, Valentine’s daughter Kate (Leila George), or this grease-monkey character named Bevis Pod (Ronan Rafferty), the ruler of London Magnus Crome (Patrick Malahide), and even two scenes worth of a slimy English snob whose name I can’t even remember, but built him up to be important, yet he’s only in two scenes. You see what’s happening here? The movie gets highly crowded and few, if any of these characters needed to be in the movie. Kate literally just serves as someone who… learns that her dad is a dipshit, and Bevis is the guy who’s always said that Valentine is a dipshit. Point is, they contribute nothing of worth. Cut them out and the movie misses few beats and would either make the movie shorter, or make room to develop characters more deserving of that screen time.
<<<SPOILERS>>> [ I won’t lie, Shrike’s motivations for wanting to kill Hester are incredibly thin. Looking back, I wish his motivation was just to continue to protect her from a world that he knows is unforgiving. Despite his threatening and frightening appearance, he’s actually very kind. It’s also not clear why this promise she made to become like him is such a big deal to him. Is it because he knows that he’s the only one left of his kind and he wants another to not feel lonely? That would certainly make sense, but it’s not made clear in the slightest. If this was a more artistically driven movie, I wouldn’t have a problem having fun deciphering his motivations, which I’m already doing, but let’s face it, my imagination is simply running wild. Thing is, the movie has been toting itself around as a dumb sci-fi action movie, this bizarre level of subtlety almost doesn’t work as we don’t get enough of Shrike and Hester’s relationship. I’m surprised we get as much as we do, but this could have served in a separate story all its own. ] <<<CONTINUE SPOILERS>>>
<<<SPOILERS CONTINUED>>> [ You know what this movie feels like? It feels like reverse-Hobbit. For those of you that don’t know, The Hobbit movies were a trilogy made out of a single book that wasn’t all that big, making for a fairly big complaint among fans. “Butter scraped over too much bread,” I think the joke was. But with this movie, it feels like a trilogy that was smashed into a single movie. It has more than a few subplots that seem to go nowhere, or don’t have enough development as they should. Personally, if I were to change anything, I would do this. The first movie would be a smaller film about Hester’s past. More of her relationship with her mom and Valentine, her relationship with Shrike. Her mom has always taught patience, kindness, and generally being a good person. However, her murder makes her angry and desire for revenge. Shrike offers her an alternative to simply forgetting the past and moving on with no emotions, something she’s tempted by, but continues to slowly descend into a more vengeful state of mind. That would be the first movie. More intimate, we get to know some of the major players a bit better, priming itself for a sequel. The next movie would be what we get here, Hester trying to kill Valentine for her mother’s murder. But I would have it that Valentine be a more sympathetic character who never wanted to kill Hester’s mom and we see that Hester continues to struggle with that sense of vengeance and not letting pain be her life’s driving force. And by the end of the movie, we learn that Valentine is Hester’s father. Not that this is the biggest twist in cinematic history. Hell, some can probably guess it from the trailer itself, but the third and final movie would basically be about the two of them facing off, but in a more personal way, not knowing what to make of each other. Both have done pretty messed up things, but with some tweaking to the writing, we know that both characters mean well. And, you know, big battles with London and other cities thrown in. I don’t know, this movie got really busy and needed to only follow on main plotline. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>
Overall, this will likely be an unpopular opinion, but I actually like this movie. I love this world and certain characters created a wonderful dynamic. However, I can’t deny the problems. This movie has way too many characters and subplots, most of which serve no purpose. Is this a good movie? Probably not, but the visuals and creativity of the world introduced are too awesome for me to dislike. As a recommendation, viewer beware. I like this movie enough, but the majority seem to not. Your best bet might be to save it for a rental. But if you must see it in the cinemas, discount day, just in case you don’t end up liking it, you’ll be happy to know you didn’t pay full price.
My honest rating for MORTAL ENGINES: 4/5
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