Tophat with goggles of the mornin to ya lads and ladies. Steampunk inventions to me are defined by having superfluous designs. I do think they could work but it also feels like you could make it a lot more effective and less prone to breakage if you lose a few parts here and there. The first movie I decided to watch for this series completely fits in that theme. This movie is SO steampunk that in it’s design it even is steampunk in it’s very direction and concept. A great movie to start off with! So with this post I will review the Mortal Engine.
The Framework of Movie
The Mortal Engines is a Steampunk movie that came out in 2018 with.. a bit of a buzz.. You know, it’s not one of those movies you really put in your day planner but you remember the trailer for it thinking.. that might be interesting. At least that was how it appeared to me. It’s a Universal Pictures movie.. that was produced by Wingnut films along with a few other studios. It stars Robert Sheehan as the male lead. A guy you might know from his role in the tv series Misfits.. or of the campy but strangely similar title.. the Mortal Instruments. He plays Tom Natsworthy.. a historian who once had the ambition to be an aviator. The female lead is played by Hera Hilmar, who played in Da Vinci’s demons and A LOT of movies where I don’t know how to make the special characters on my keyboard. She plays Hester Shaw and to me at least was the most interesting character in this movie. The biggest name tied to this movie is Hugo Weaving who plays the role of Thaddeus Valentine.. and no that is not a spoiler.. that is shown in the first 10 minutes. Plus he is called Thaddeus Valentine.. that’s like a dead giveaway for villainous intent.
The movie is directed by Christian Rivers whom I have never heard off but he directs a lot for Peter Jackson who also is involved for the Screenplay of this movie. It’s based on a book or book series but I haven’t read them so I will be honest I do not know if it follows the entire book series, the first book or is a reimagining. Thus I will be critiquing any problems I have with the story , or things I love about it seperate from the book. I do not care if they had to follow a weak plot line because it is part of the book. I will review this as if it was a completely stand alone product and purely review it as a movie. Artemis Fowl has shown us how movies can be rewritten entirely to fit the silver screen, albeit poorly, so no need to compare it to the book. I will assume the book is better so if you dislike me critiquing points.. I am sure the book offers more context.. but that is not a valid argument here! I am the average movie audience here!
The Many Cylinders of the Plot
The story of this movie is rather complex for a 128 minute movie. Because there are many plot points and they really tie into my opinion of this movie, consider this your spoiler warning. This will be one of those reviews where I dig in deep! Starting in the next section.. so you have until then to make up your mind. The movie mostly follows Tom and Hester and their adventure together. The movie is set somewhere in the early 3000’s or the late 2000’s. Present day is described as being a thousand years ago! Yet since that often can be used hyperbolically.. I will keep it that vague. Tom is a historian working in the great city of London. To survive and get resources the city hunts smaller settlements and thus earns the title of Predator city. Settlements that fall prey to this city.. do not have their citizens killed.. but you are forced to live in London.. and this faith befalls Hesters village.. or so we think. WShe actually snuck onto this city.. to get captured by London. Her goal is to kill Thadeus Valentine.. When Tom foils her assasination attempt to save the man he respects, their destinies become intertwined and a big conspiracy is soon to be revealed.
What follows is an interesting movie, that has tons and tons of cool action scenes. Pursuits on conveyor belts, huge fight scenes, daring escapes from hard to escape AND access places. We also get some very colourful and entertaining characters that really seem like they jumped out of an interesting JRPG. They are very over the top but I mean that in a very endearing way. Tom and Hester really are very much opposites but their journey together is quite charming to watch even if it’s quite cliché. Steampunk wise we are also good, we get lots of cool vehicles, lot’s gadgetty action and just a whole lot of fun! This is an absolute popcorn flick of the highest level where they just cram in so much fun stuff.. it actually becomes a bit less fun.. and a whole lot more messy!
It’s a true Jackson
Peter Jackson does what Peter Jackson does best in this movie and makes this movie a spectacular fantasy spectacle movie that features giant moving cities and insect like vehicles instead of Orcs and Dragons. We do not get Giant Apes.. but we airships and undead. It’s all brought to life in such a believable way. Peter Jackson however also does what Peter Jackson does worst.. and that is turning a fairly self contained story into a somewhat convoluted mess that has WAAAAAY too many things going on and WAAAAY too much world building for a two hour format. Jackson does not trim excess weight.. and there is a lot of it in this movie.
Not only does Hester have to get back to London to kill Thaddeus Valentine for killing her mother, he is also building a mysterious weapon.. so that Tom the historian can come into play offering plenty of exposition. The boy dreams of being an aviator but after his parents died in a tragic accident he gave it up to take on their job to honour them. Those parts all work in pretty great harmony! We got one girl that was raised with a thirst for vengeance traveling with a bookworm trying to be more. However Hester is also being chased by an undead man, Thaddeus Valentine has a daughter who is close friends with Tom and potentially even romantically interested.. while he gets ejected out of the city she starts her own investigation. There is a Terrorist out there known as Anna Fang who actually is a sort of sky pirate.. operating from a floating city.. which works in an alliance with a non Migratory settlement of Buddhist Monks and Mongol like warriors who have built the next Shangrila and have resources aplenty.. trying to survive the tyranny of the predator cities.
That already is a lot of balls being held up in the air.. but then the Undead guy has a subplot of being Hesters , surrogate father who wishes to turn her into an undead machinelike woman herself because after she lost her mom she closed off her heart. There is a guy who is interested in Thaddeus’ daughter.. who seems like he is built up like Tom’s rival for Katherines love.. but then Tom falls for Hester instead and Katherine also gives up on falling in love with Tom and tries to befriend a man named Bevis.. who is a working Joe who hates Katherine for who her father is.. the two seem to hit it off.. but the movie runs out of time so we don’t see that going anywhere. Oh and then of course there is this super secret weapon that Valentine is trying to obtain..but the secret is locked in Hesters path.. but she can’t remember it all because she closed off her heart .. so now her love .. and the undead named Shrike all play part in that as well. Did I tell you there are also slavers and a faction that works with the slavers.. There are ancient rumors of secret passageways and a city overseer who gets sucked in by Thaddeus’ ploy .. evil scientist and there is a deeper connection between Valentine and Hester.. it is so much , and a lot of these plot points don’t go anywhere. Especially with Katherine a lot of stories just fizzle a bit.
To explain this a bit more let me tell you the events off about ⅓ of the movie. Starting after Hester’s failed attempt to kill Valentine. Tom.. wanting to impress Katherine I think.. chases after the assassin Hester.. over a conveyor belt.. while huge chainsaws and buzzsaws chop up the small town both have dodge debries and of course being cut in half. After that Tom catches up with Hester in the dustshoot of the city.. which she jumps off.. telling Tom that Valentine killed her mother. The man shows up himself and once he found out Tom heard this information he pushes him off the city sending patrols to dispose of them. Hester steals Tom’s money so he decides to follower her around realising Thaddeus just tried to murder them. They have to try to board London again to get this resolved.. but Tom not used to the wild thinks he signals a traveling town… unknowingly actually flagging slavers down to his location. They get chased by large parts of a city and Hester gets hurt by a harpoon. Just as they are about to get captured they are saved by an old guy and his centipede like tank vehicle.. but Hester is injured and needs a doctor. It doesn’t take long to find out this old guy actually works for the slavers.. and Tom and Hester have to escape.. however since Hester is injured that is not possible. She tells Tom to leave her behind but he refuses.
Thus the two do not escape and make it to a slave market where they are about to be sold off separately.. when Anna Fang shows up to rescue Hester..Apparently her mother was a Freedom fighter as well and she asked Anna to find Hester. Which took her many many years. Because Anna has a bounty on her head a fight between her and the slavers ensues using martial arts and steampunk guns to cause some serious damage. Just as the slaver town goes into driving mode.. the undead guy shows up and begins blasting and chasing Hester and Tom.. Anna saves Hester with an airship but Tom is to slow now Hester has to decide if she sticks by her own code and saves Tom…this all happens in about 45 minutes or so so is about ⅓ of the movie.. and that ONLY deals with our main characters story.. We also see Thaddeus and Katherine do stuff still and get exposition from other historians. It is one heck of a messy ride.. but I sure did enjoy it. It’s kind of watching kids decorate a christmas tree.
It’s like leftovers pizza where you just put everything you like on the pizza and then eat it. It’s nice and keeps you fed and you do like the taste.. but if you let someone do a blind tasting they have no idea what’s on it. The Shrike storyline … just kinda ends.. it DOES contribute.. in a way.. but I feel the story would have been cleaner without it. It feels like this would have been better as a plot for a sequel.. now that Hester is happy she has to keep an old promise and stop feeling.. but now she doesn’t want to any longer.. Shrike has the combat skill to do work as a movie long villian. There is a cuteness to the story with Hester’s heart being fixed and him recognising this.. but it just could have been done better. Katherine’s plot literally just stops being relevant.. we do not even get to see her react to any of the big reveals. It’s like Red wine that is not decanted properly. Sure you can get drunk and have one hell of a buzz if you finish the bottle.. just if you allowed it to breath more it would have been better.
On A Roll
Yet despite that it is movie messy there is such a charm to this movie. I can only admit that it has this amazing geeky feeling. When the flyer pilots take on London , It feels like Gurren Lagann to me.. when they face Shrike in the Slaver city I got JRPG vibes on account of the plot jumps and the somewhat tacky but satisfying moral choices. There is a bit of Bioshock in there, a bit of fallout, it even has some disney vibes here and there.. there is a bit of Star Wars , if you are any kind of geek this movie will just have a form of magnetism.. I felt so much appeal throughout the entire two hours. I did not care that the movie was a sloppy mess.. I kinda more or less just knew but I did not really care.
The way the movie city is made, the costumes, the colours it all has a childish appeal to it. Not all effects are convincing.. but it still looks bad-ass. This movie feels very videogamey to me and I mean that in the best way possible. It has the same flaws as gaming as well but the action is really nice and REALLy engaging almost as if you take part. The acting is not always convincing but it has that JRPG charm. Hugo Weaving does a nice job playing the villain and Tom is a great character. Hester has a few mistakes for me.. especially when Shrike.. is written out of the movie she more or less feels like she just did the English voice over of a Tales of Game… but somehow I like that. It’s one of those movies that has a charm.. like Batman and Robin .. but better. It’s greatest strength is it’s charisma and I actually love that this is a movie that sits on that merrit. Steampunk to me has a form of charrisma and appeal.. it doesn’t always make sense..but when you look at it you can’t help but smile. If you can fall for a movies appeal instead of it’s merrits you will have a very great time.