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‘Mortal Engines’ eye-catching visuals cover up a dead story

For every Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, there’s always a pile of dung waiting right behind it.

Directed by Christian Rivers, Mortal Engines stars Hera Hilmar, Hugo Weaving, Robert Sheehan, Jihae and Stephen Lang.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world where major cities on wheels devour smaller cities on wheels, a pair of rebels try to stop someone, controlling London, from achieving a dastardly plan to wipe out the rest of the world, or at least what’s left of it.

After seeing Mortal Engines, I could have sworn that that Peter Jackson had more of an influence than just being a producer and a screenwriter when it was in the development process.

The grand scope-like and CGI heavy backdrops and action have Jackson’s name written all over it. Rivers did work closely as a storyboard artist for almost all of Jackson’s directed films.

Like Jackson’s films after The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Mortal Engines missed a great opportunity to convert a book into a movie. Instead, out came the turd that wishes it could be a diamond.

Taking the book out of this review — since a good film doesn’t have to be defined by a good book, and vice versa — I can see a foundation for an epic story with thoroughly examined characters. Mortal Engines misses the mark and chooses to focus on eye candy in exchange for substance.

The most unfortunate part of the screenplay is that the three brilliant writers behind one of the best trilogies of all time, which includes The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, wrote a trash script that doesn’t even feel like it has a beating heart; it’s a dead plot that has been done in previous films.

While I agree that the idea of cities that can drive around like monster trucks is interesting in some way, that’s basically the summit of this film’s cool ideas. The two main characters are unlikable from start to finish. I can’t say that they’re unrelatable, but they are one-noted and barely have character arcs that pay off.

I’m supposed to root for these characters to win at the end, but it’s hard to cheer them on when Hugo Weaving is the bad guy, which is one of the only other factors that makes Mortal Engines watchable. Weaving is fun to watch as the villain. Case and point, The Matrix, Captain America: The First Avenger, and Transformers (he voiced Megatron).

Aside from the poor characterization for the main characters, including the secondary characters, it seems like everything they said was half-assed. I’m not talking about how the actors said their lines, I’m talking about what they were saying.

I’m going to point the fingers to the screenwriters again. For one, there are too many lines and jokes that are knock in the heads, reminding you that this movie is set in the future. It’s cringeworthy when a London historian admires statues of the Minions from Despicable Me.

I’ll admit it, I got caught chuckling at the absurdity of how characters reacted to a phone or a flash drive. A bit of advice to Peter Jackson and company: your audience exists in 2018, not in the far future.

For a film about the future, it sure does feel like the continuity of certain character entrances and movements feels jumbled. Philip Reeve, author of the Mortal Engines book series, wrote four books, so I can’t put too much blame on the editors for trying their best to fit so much content into only one film.

There are parts that have one character accomplishing a task, then cutting to another somewhere else doing something else. Cut back to that first character and it feels like it’s been ages since the audience saw them on screen.

Misguided journeys like these produce flaws that are unacceptable, especially for the adapters of The Lord of the Rings.

Let’s clear the air: I didn’t like Mortal Engines. However, there are some factors that redeem it for a Monday movie night.

Reeves has worked side by side with Jackson as a visual effects supervisor. His knowledge and taste for sleek CGI and action is on point in Mortal Engines. One of my favorite scenes is when the giant weapon atop London’s church shoots lightning-energy stuff at a humongous city wall, exploding parts of it into a billion pieces.

Still, these moments can’t help the film’s overall descent into the pit of doom.

Mortal Engines has the potential for a world of beautiful characters and action, but screenwriters Jackson, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh drive down their self-built fork in the road and choose aesthetics without an identity.

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