Freida PintoHenry Cavill...
Action & AdventureDrama...
In 1 Cinema
Peter Jackson, the man behind the Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as The Hobbit, has recently come out with a brand new adaptation of the book series Mortal Engines. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, the best way we can describe it, both aesthetically and conceptually, is a curious combination of Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), with the steampunk vibes ramped up quite a bit!
This post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure film takes place in what used to be Europe, where London is now a giant “predator city”, meaning it’s basically a city on wheels, destroying everything in its path and using smaller city’s resources. While London thrives, other cities and communities struggle. Already, this is an interesting commentary on capitalism and imperialism, portrayed in a visually unique way. The film’s plot follows the unlikely companionship that forms between Tom Natsworthy and Hester Shaw. Tom is an apprentice historian and Hester is a mysterious young fugitive with a grudge against Thaddeus Valentine, Head of the Guild of Historians in London.
While trying to stop Hester from enacting her revenge on Thaddeus, Tom learns of the corrupt ways of this leader and is forced to try and survive with Hester in the post-apocalyptic wasteland outside the safety of London. Along the way, they meet other outcasts and rebels with their own vendettas against the predator city and its rulers, one of whom being Anna Fang, a character who is bound to become a fan favourite with her kick-ass heroism and insanely cool style. Overall, the protagonists of the film are likeable, and the antagonists are well developed.
The first thing most likely to be noticed by viewers is how visually stunning this film is. Strong art direction helps to clearly distinguish different locations and “cities” from one another with clever use of concept art and colour palettes. Not only is the general scenery well crafted, but so is the costume design as well as the makeup. It certainly helps that all the cast members have unique and compelling features in one way or another. This is a considerably nice touch, especially since the film doesn’t really rely on star power, with all the lead actors being relatively unknown.
Although the plot is enthralling, the film does tend to drag on, causing the viewer to get a little restless and wondering when it will end. There were many instances in which we thought the credits would start rolling, but they didn’t. As enjoyable as the film was, this did get pretty tiring. However, when it did end, we were satisfied with the way things played out; plenty of room was made for sequels, yet we weren’t left with a frustrating cliffhanger and instead walked out of the theatre with a sense of closure and clarity, as well as hunger for more. While the story could be overwhelming with seemingly unnecessary subplots at some points, it makes sense considering the immense scope of the world in which the story occurs, and overall the filmmakers did a good job of incorporating these superfluous details smoothly.
We were also quite pleased with the way in which gender stereotypes were challenged in the plot. The clearest example of this is in the dynamic between Hester and Tom, with Hester being the tough and scrappy rogue taking charge of situations, and Tom being the reluctant and even somewhat fragile sidekick often in need of saving. Both Hester and Anna were not sexualised in any way, with their appeal coming from their interesting character arcs, and combat and survival abilities. The film’s cast was also relatively diverse, but unfortunately could use some improvement in the area of representation. Pretty much every non-white character in the film, besides Anna (who was spectacularly portrayed by singer and actress Jihae), were simply extras or supporting roles. The portrayal of one community in particular, made up mostly of east-Asians, was very Orientalist in nature, conveying them as mystical and wise – a classic and tiresome cinematic trope.
This wasn’t the only case of clichés being used in the story and dialogue; as with any fantasy or sci-fi film, there were indeed some cheesy moments here and there, but they were more than forgivable, and even somewhat endearing. All in all, this was a pleasant and exhilarating viewing experience. Many films that are intensely visually pleasing can sometimes lack in depth and complexity, but this was certainly a spectacle with substance.