"We should never have gone into Europe!" With this line, uttered by the Lord Mayor of a mobile fortress London, Mortal Engines veers perilously close to becoming "The Brexit Movie". Thankfully,' despite the presence of St. Paul's Cathedral, bowler hat-wearing beefeaters and "mind the drop" gags, the cool historical Britannica set dressing never overwhelms this steampunk Star Wars.
Based upon Philip Reeve's 2001 Young Adult novel, the Lord of the Rings screenwriting group of Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson has produced an entertaining post-apocalyptic action adventure while streamlining some of the book's later sections.
Hundreds of years after a "60 minute war" using quantum weapons decimated the planet, giant predator cities and smaller mobile settlements roam the not quite so cursed Earth in search of resources, many engaging in "municipal Darwinism" or devouring the smaller towns. Think Mad Max but with much, much, much bigger vehicles. Mad Max comparisons aren't helped by the presence of Fury Road composer Tom Holkenborg/Junkie XL on the soundtrack, but he provides a distinct, if equally propulsive, soundtrack.
In this town-eat-town world, scarred wanderer Hester Shaw (Hilmar) and London historian Tom Natsworthy (Sheehan) are thrown together off London and into the wastes, after Hester tries to murder elite scientist Thaddeus Valentine (Weaving). The far more capable Hester leads Tom on a tour through the fallen world of land pirates, hidden histories and revenge as Tom learns more about Hester, her ties to Valentine and what Valentine might have in store for London and the "anti-tractionist" "static cities" of the world outside Tom's comfortable London life.
Unlike the ham-fisted world building in the recent Fantastic Beasts sequel, the world of Mortal Engines is teased out organically throughout the film's running time and through the interaction of the engaging characters. One of the best characters comes in the form of what seems to be a fully CGI creation, Shrike; a terrifying remnant from the old times who seems at first to be some kind of steampunk Terminator who reveals a heartbreaking back story. Stephen Lang's cries of "Hester Shawwwww" will stay with you long after the credits roll.
That wasn't a joke about Star Wars. Hester may well be on her (anti) hero's journey by the start of the film but it culminates in a trench run against a weapon of mass destruction by a squadron of plucky pilots. One of the few flaws of the film is that these aviators aren't quite as fleshed out as most of the other characters, making it difficult to care about their fate. Similarly, badass aviatrix Anna Fang (Jihae) comes off as a little too badass and one note. Audiences might also may find themselves screaming at the screen in frustration at the obvious location of the MacGuffin required to thwart Valentine's plans.
Despite Peter Jackson's name being all over this, Christian Rivers (not a religious rock band) makes an impressive feature directorial debut in this enjoyable post-apocalyptic adventure. Not just for Young Adults.
MORTAL ENGINES / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: CHRISTIAN RIVERS / SCREENPLAY: FRAN WALSH, PHILIPPA BOYENS, PETER JACKSON, PHILIP REEVE / STARRING: HERA HILMAR, ROBERT SHEEHAN, HUGO WEAVING, STEPHEN LANG / RELEASE DATE: 8TH DECEMBER