Mortal Engines follows a handful of characters as they traverse a distant future that features mobile towns that are "hunted by and fed upon" by large "predator" mobile cities.
Mortal Engines Review
Before I begin my defense of Mortal Engines, I will preface my thoughts with the objective statement that Mortal Engines is inherently flawed. The movie feels like it was stuck in this terrible limbo between being a standalone film, a tent-pole feature, a part-1&2 series, or a trilogy. It probably deserved a longer runtime than 2 hours to tell its tale, but lacked the substance to carry it for more than two films, leaving it in this awkward space with nowhere to go. And the finished product, particularly the story, suffered for it.
It was clear when I entered the theater that this movie had problems. It was enough for me to see the movie based on an original, while rather ridiculous premise, and it was worth an admission ticket alone to see the world manifested visually. But it is unfortunately clear that this movie wasn't what patrons were looking for. And it will go down as a historically awful flop. And I do find that unfair.
Again, Mortal Engines is sloppy, cheesy and poorly constructed at times, but it wasn't worth this terrible reception it has gotten. It is admittedly targeted toward the young-adult audience, which to this movie patron is generally full of crappy filmmaking anyways. What's the best, most accessible young-adult series since the turn of the century? The Hunger Games series. And I'd put that above Mortal Engines, for sure. Even the first Maze Runner has redeemable qualities. But I have a hard time thinking of any other young-adult movies out there that are as enjoyable as Mortal Engines. Twilight, I Am Number Four, Divergent, and Percy Jackson are all far-less bearable in my opinion than Mortal Engines.
Mortal Engines lacks the generally abysmal love stories that feed the other franchises. Yes, it has one, but it's fueled by the best sub-plot that was so interesting, I thought it would've made a great movie all to itself. Our heroine is essentially adopted and raised by this resurrected steampunk zombie of sorts, and it leads to this morbid relationship of love that devolves from this calculating, heartless machine with vague memories of a soul. It's tragic and moving, expansive and deep. It leads to the best scenes of the movie, the most engaging moments. And you wish you could have gotten more.
But instead we get the over-stuffed plot that tries to squeeze as much from the books into the film as possible. A series of flashbacks feel necessary, but they further glue the pacing of a movie in which you'd rather see more giant city amalgamations do battle with each other at speeds that feel weird and entertaining. It's as clunky and funky as Waterworld, with about the same level of sense and fluidity. It just lacks the structure and substance to not feel shallow and distant.
Yet, I enjoyed it, and in general my sentiment wasn't despite the rest of the film. The characters aren't able to develop much, but they live in this rich and interesting world that is enough of a distraction that I can get involved in the world through its scenes rather than the characters it populates itself with. Which, again, is the best way to enjoy Waterworld.
I can't give Mortal Engines a ringing commendation, but I just find it sad that it is going to suffer such a horrible box office fate when the biggest flaw it probably made was finding some awkward gap between target audiences. It looked like it fell in this weird chasm between young-adult and traditional summer scifi blockbuster. And perhaps if it had committed one way or another it would have succeeded, at least financially. But because it was almost something different, I can look back at it and see something that was almost special.