Mortal Engines begins with immortality in mind. It’s a sequence breathtaking in scope and sky-high in ambition. A young woman scans the horizon through a looking glass, and finds London, yes, the entire city of London, rolling towards her like a steampunk nightmare. She sprints towards another city, much smaller in scale, to alert the inhabitants. What follows is a chase between the two cities, the big trying to devour the small cruising through the wastelands.
This is a sequence that is preposterous in conception, but what we witness are anchors chaining this incredulousness into a realm of believability. A fantasy film that actually opens with a sense of wonder, it’s a lofty bar for what is to come.
But what comes after that never really manages to top the cinematic resourcefulness, rather it slowly starts dismantling itself into a rigmarole of tried and tested methods of blockbuster cinema.
The Lord of The Rings wizard Peter Jackson is a self-proclaimed fan of the Mortal Engines series. Here he has turned co-producer and co-writer with Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, and given the directorial rein to his long-time collaborator Christian Rivers.
Based on British author Philip Reeve’s quartet of popular steampunk novels, this film is set thousand years into the future, after a disastrous war has turned the world into a wasteland in which cities move around like predators. The technology of the 21st century i.e. our tech is of huge interest to archaeologists.
What lies beneath this bewitchment of steampunk is a rehash of Star Wars. Like George Lucas’ space opera blueprint, this dystopian tale has a gullible hero Tom (Robert Sheehan), a tough dame Hester (Hera Hilmar), a fighter with a bounty on her head, Anna Fang (South Korea-born singer Jihae), and chief villain Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving) who’s a bad father. Not to forget, the room for resistance, and that inevitable scene of sepoys of mutiny flying and fighting for freedom and the greater good.
It’s so ironic that a collaborative effort of such brilliant minds has resulted in a film so derivative. Not only Star Wars, Mortal Engines also owes debt to Mad Max, The Terminator, Howl’s Moving Castle, and early Terry Gilliam.
Rivers’ endeavor gets the scale right, the sheer spectacle of capturing moving cities indulging in skirmishes is magnificent to say the very least. But the infinite possibilities that opened up with the first few frames slowly get reduced into fictional frames of unoriginal proceedings. There are sharp jabs of political commentary, but the film gets too busy in blockbuster formula to pause and reflect on the other prospects. And the recipe of action and adventure is too palsy-walsy to actually cheer for.
(The writer is a journalist, a screenwriter, and a content developer who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. He tweets @RanjibMazumder)
. Read more on Movie Reviews by The Quint.RSS & BJP’s Nehru-Netaji ‘Cosplay’: Irony Dies a Thousand Deaths‘Mortal Engines’ Is a Rehash of ‘Star Wars’ in Steampunk Garb . Read more on Movie Reviews by The Quint.