Mortal Engines

Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) and citizens of a small traction town on the run as the city of London bears down on them in "Mortal Engines." The film is directed by Christian Rivers, and written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson based on the novel by Philip Reeve.

Wacky Races: The Movie remains just a dream, but the release of Mortal Engines inspires new hope for giant vehicles tearing up the dystopia in a post-apocalyptic road trip. Mad Max: Fury Road probably gets most of the credit for getting Mortal Engines made as a big-budget spectacle, though. A lot of that money gets used up in the opening scene, as the mobile city of London chases down a mining city on wheels in an epic pursuit. Why is London now essentially built on a massive tank that uses up so much fuel that the populace is reduced to constantly scrambling after smaller towns on wheels? Because it looks super cool, and people needed some kind of hobbies after the world was shaken up in a nuclear war that lasted for about an hour.

Also, that big war seemingly happened around 2002. Steampunk was really popular back then, and it looks like rebuilding London on tracks helped the citizens hang on to that look. Mortal Engines, however, has a better retro ruse hidden up its mid-Victorian sleeve. This big-scale adventure (with a screenplay and production credit for Peter Jackson) is really more of a thrilling throwback to 1930s sci-fi serials.

In this case, the audience thrills to the perils of Hester Shaw, a dashingly scarred gal seeking revenge on Hugo Weaving as Ming the Merciless Engineer. He has a plan to bring back nuclear warfare while leading his revived London to world domination. The movie breathlessly sets up the plot before settling into a solid two hours of nifty cliffhangers, with Hester assisted by a plucky young historian and a South Korean rock star who’s going to help sell tickets overseas.

There’s also a vicious robot running around with a secret story arc. Shrike is slightly too convenient in wrapping up the plot, but the creature really helps to elevate Mortal Engines into an impressive fantasy epic. Even better, the film perfectly wraps up the book series’ original story line without leaving the audience feeling like they’ve just been conned into committing to four more features. Abandoned franchises like Divergent and The 5th Wave have already proven that you can’t depend on a series actually finishing nowadays – even with a South Korean rock star in the cast.

[PG-13]