Combustible Celluloid
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With: Hugo Weaving, Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, based on a novel by Philip Reeve
Directed by: Christian Rivers
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of futuristic violence and action
Running Time: 128
Date: 12/14/2018

Mortal Engines (2018)

1 Star (out of 4)

Fifth Wheels

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Simpleminded and mechanical, this movie clumsily borrows from every sci-fi/fantasy movie of the last 40 years, and smushes it all together with inept filmmaking, and a total lack of logic or emotion.

In Mortal Engines, it's the distant future, and the world has been ravaged. Cities are now giant roving vehicles constantly searching for food and fuel. The biggest is London, where Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving) is secretly collecting old tech to build something in secret. Meanwhile, a girl from the wastelands, Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) makes her way on board London and tries to kill Valentine, but is stopped by a historian, Tom (Robert Sheehan), who works at the museum.

Hester and Tom are both dropped into the wastes, where they are rescued by a rebel pilot, Anna Fang (Jihae). Unfortunately, a "resurrected" monster (Stephen Lang) is after Hester, and Valentine's daughter Katherine (Leila George) discovers what her father is really up to. Can the good guys stop the bad guys in time?

Based on a young adult novel by Philip Reeve and — shockingly — adapted by Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, and Fran Walsh, Mortal Engines does feature some cool costume and production design, but this only goes so far as all of it begins to seem numbingly familiar. The movie doesn't even take any joy in its copying; it doesn't pay homage to anything. It's a slavish, soulless piece of work, as if done by a computer cut-and-paste application.

It's not even any fun. It's certainly too childish for teen viewers (and too brutally violent for younger viewers). The sloppily-shot and hastily-cut action sequences are piled on top of other scenes that do not adhere to any kind of character logic or need; everything that happens serves only the plot.

The dialogue is wince-inducing, and characters spend most of the movie either scowling (trying to look cool), or staring slack-jawed at some impressive piece of scenery. By the end, it becomes painfully clear that most of the incessant stealing can be traced to the Star Wars movies, and Mortal Engines has the dubious honor that it makes even the worst entries in that series look accomplished and admirable.

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