by Clark Breslin
Mortal Engines, the new Peter Jackson spectacular… I went in thinking this is either going to be ‘Lord of the Rings’ good, or ‘King Kong’ awful. Comes off more as Meet the Feebles.
I have not felt so conflicted about a movie in a long time. Quasi-spoiler alert. There is action aplenty. You’ve seen the trailers: entire cities on wheels and tracks, hunting each other in what they call “Municipal Darwinism.” Clearly, a certain amount of willing suspension of disbelief is necessary. There are spectacular visuals, to the point that I wanted more static shots, just to see the world. Airships, therefore, the movie is cool.
Standard-issue tropes are plentiful. At times, I felt like I was going through the Central Issue Facility at Ft. Knox. Bad guys who could shoot at the ground and miss? Got lots of those. Good guys who hit everything at which they shoot without fail? Uh-huh. Ruthless but smooth antagonist? One each. Clueless general population? Check. Quasi-utopian rival nation? Oh yeah. Inscrutable character whose ninja-like skills fail only at the dramatically suitable moment? Check. Super weapon with requisite recharge time (and countdown only when it adds to the tension)? Check. Bumbling, geeky, male protagonist with no self-preservation instincts? Sadly, yes. Standard-issue geekier friend? Yeah. Way too slick, streetwise female protagonist with dark backstory? Uh-huh. Smarmy, self-serving rival whose only purpose is to fill a plot hole? Yep. Too innocent and naive to be believed possible love interest for protagonist? She’s there too. Useless bureaucrat? Got one of them. Small, single-seat fighters against massive, unstoppable juggernaut? They’re in there.
So, there’s nothing new in the nut and bolts. Dialogue was uninspiring. When Agent Elrond used a quote from Jackson’s ‘Lord of the Rings’, I rolled my eyes and thought, ‘Screw you, Gandalf.’ Jackson set the PC levels very high on this one, but I shan’t go into that.
The good: The look of the film is spectacular. The concept of cities on tracks, consuming each other for survival was interesting. A little weird and over the top, but, hey, I’ll go with it. Many, many neatos for the airships. Visually, it is beautiful, but some of the shots are so busy, I felt like I was not able to enjoy it enough. Despite all the shortcomings in originality, I did enjoy seeing it. Not sure I would go back to see it in theatres, but I foresee a video purchase when it comes available. Like ‘Meet the Feebles’, it’s weird, but fun.
In summation, Mortal Engines is a hodgepodge of things we have seen in science fiction for decades. It lifts bits from here and there and bolts them together. The result is entertaining, but lacks anything superlative to elevate it beyond being upper-mediocre.