Even the best writers and directors lay an egg once in awhile. For Peter Jackson, it’s Mortal Engines. A film that has no shame in being a blatant rip-off at its “best,” and revels in stupidity at its worst. Hollywood has placed a lot of trust in amateur directors with big budget features in the last few years, but this is by far the dumbest. Christian Rivers — directing the multitude of storylines from Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens’s screenplay, based on Philip Reeve’s novels — may know a thing or two about crafting together some awesome visuals. (He worked on many of Jackson’s films, along with winning an Oscar for King Kong.) But he has no idea how to link the pieces together with plot, pace, or characterization.
We’re told that during the Sixty Minute War, all that remains of humanity are mobile “predator” cities. Under “Municipal Darwinism,” the larger cities consume the smaller and the chase is on between London and Salzhaken. After being consumed, Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), is onboard, taking her one chance to try to assassinate Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving). Thaddeus killed her mom when she was a child and she’s out for revenge. While her attempt it thwarted by Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), Tom finds himself kicked aside after he mentions to Thaddeus Hester’s claims. Now, Tom must join forces with Hester — and the Anti-Traction League agent, Anna Fang (Jihae) — to stay alive in the Great Hunting Grounds, and stop Thaddeus’s war machine built to destroy the wall keeping the city of Shan Guo safe from the rest of the world.
For anyone wondering what it would look like to see a collection of mid-play video game scenes up on the big screen, here you go. Mortal Engines may start out on the right track — the opening city chase is quite the sight to behold — but it all goes downhill from there. Filled with characters who only speak in catchphrases, one-liners, and exposition, Rivers and his writers seem terrified audiences will never be able to keep up with the plot.
Maybe it wouldn’t be such a chore if they weren’t trying to squeeze in a million plot lines. It doesn’t help that the dialogue ranges from eye-rolling to cringe worthy, to laugh-out-loud hilarious. If there’s a silver lining, Mortal Engines is unintentionally funny from start-to-finish and the visuals can be quite spectacular. And they better be, considering it spends most of its time blatantly ripping off the entire Star Wars franchise. I doubt if even the most hardcore steampunks could find anything of interest here. Everyone else is best spending their time anywhere else this holiday season.
Mortal Engines crashes and burns. A statement that pains me to say about anything Peter Jackson related, but to use one of his own film titles as an example: you’d have to be completely Brain Dead to enjoy this one.