When I saw the teaser trailer for Mortal Engines, my interest was piqued. Cities on wheels? London is a massive tank of a city? What the heck is going on?! So I needed to learn more – immediately. That night, I downloaded the first book in the series, Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. It only took me a day or two to complete but I was fascinated. This post-apocalyptic world where people were living on moving cities, where people lived in the sky, where people have settled into communities. Cities had become predators, stalking the prey of the weaker settlements like animals in the wild. And at the middle of it all was Hester Shaw with a taste for revenge. So needless to say, I was hyped up for this film.

With Peter Jackson producing, Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens writing and Christian Rivers directing, it was a dream team. The people who made Lord of the Rings into a massive success were going to take this book series I was falling in love with and make it just as big of a success! Right? Well, maybe not so much. 

As soon as London roars across the screen, you’re sent with neck-breaking speed through the film, barely able to catch your breath. In fact, before you even see the title of the movie, we’re treated to a show of just how London has become the powerhouse that you see. They “hunt” a smaller traction city for their supplies, all to the thunderous applause of its citizens. Even when the settlement looks like it’s going to get away from the behemoth city, it fails and becomes prey. It’s when the title card  shows up you realize that this film isn’t going to stop and hold your hand. You either have to keep up or you’re going to be left behind in its wake. 

The film makers slammed everything they could into the 2 hour and 9 minute running time. That’s not to say it’s all bad, but it meant relying on a lot of flashback sequences to deliver home emotional story beats. There was one long subplot that started and ended in the middle of the film. While I was a bit impressed at how much they were able to cover in it, I was left feeling sad and confused. It was supposed to make me feel sad for this side character (and it worked because I’m a sucker) but it wasn’t really necessary for the plot of the film. Additionally, there were also a few present day references thrown in that ended up smacking viewers in the face. I wasn’t expecting them and frankly, they weren’t welcome.

The film’s speed left me little time to process what was happening – and I read the book! Even though the fast moving pace hindered the story, action sequences were quick and exciting. More than once I found myself sitting up straighter when the action got more intense. The near constant threat of being crushed to death by a great wheel was palpable. And there were a LOT of wheels in this film.

All of the performances are good but there’s really only one actor that holds the film down. Hugo Weaving delivers a terrifying performance as Thaddeus Valentine, a man seeking power at any cost – and you absolutely believe that. With every jowl quiver and calm, cold stare, he steals every scene.

Mortal Engines delivers an action-packed steampunk adventure that is gorgeous to look at. But if you’re looking for a strong, cohesive story, you won’t find it here. To quote a man in my theater as the film ended: “The book was better.” Mortal Engines rolls into theaters this Friday.

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Erin Lynch