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Mortal Engines

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Mortal Engines
Mortal Engines teaser poster.jpg
"Peter Jackson presents an epic new saga"... that died not long after its first movie released.
Genre: Post-apocalyptic
Directed By: Christian Rivers
Written By: Peter Jackson
Fran Walsh
Philippa Boyens
Starring: Hera Hilmar
Robert Sheehan
Hugo Weaving
Ronan Raftery
Leila George
Patrick Malahide
Stephen Lang
Release Date: December 7, 2018 (New Zealand)
December 14, 2018 (United States)
Runtime: 128 minutes
Country: New Zealand
United States

Mortal Engines is a post-apocalyptic adventure film released in 2018. Directed by Christian Rivers, written by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens, and distributed by Universal Pictures, it is based on the first novel of the same name featured in the Mortal Engines Quartet book series by Philip Reeve.


In a post-apocalyptic future, all cities and towns are built on wheels so as to more easily harvest the Earth's resources, with the larger cities frequently devouring their smaller counterparts. Hester Shaw, a resident of one such town, boards the giant predator city of London and uses the opportunity to try and get revenge on Thaddeus Valentine, the man who killed her mother, but is unwittingly foiled by Apprentice Historian named Tom Natsworthy. Afterwards, the two team up with wanted aviatrix Anna Fang to take down Valentine and prevent him from activating a super-weapon named MEDUSA.

Bad Qualities

  1. Generic story about a chosen one who is fated to bring down a tyrannical civilisation.
  2. Hester Shaw, unlike the novel, is a blatant Mary Sue, who is shown to have no significant character flaws other than her obsessive need for revenge on Valentine, has a vast number of talents, and the other characters make long speeches about how incredibly special she is.
  3. Hester's story arc feels like a rip-off of that of Jyn Erso from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. To be fair, the original novel pre-dated Rogue One by over a decade, but they could have done more to make Hester distinct from Jyn.
  4. None of the main characters are particularly likeable or interesting.
    • In fact, the majority of characters have their roles significantly reduced to the point where their inclusion to the plot is entirely irrelevant.
  5. Despite director Christian Rivers saying Hester's scar "does need to be disfiguring enough that she thinks she’s ugly – it can’t just be a little scratch", there isn't a single moment in the movie where she sees herself as ugly, and her scar is barely even disfiguring.
    • To make matters worse, her scar looks almost nothing like how it's described in the book.
  6. Really terrible chemistry between Hera Hilmar and Robert Sheehan.
  7. They combined a bunch of the novel's first scenes into one, meaning that the start of the story feels like a massive co-incidence; Hester just happens to be instantly presented with an opportunity for revenge on Valentine, the man who killed her mother, after her old town is devoured by London.
  8. The story revolves around London having developed an incredibly powerful superweapon that can instantly destroy other cities. But London is already so powerful that there's no logical reason why they would ever need such a weapon.
  9. The whole "cities on wheels" premise is poorly explained. You'd think that building cities in this way would use up far more of the resources they were trying to conserve! This is something the novel explained better, but the film glosses over.
  10. Bad writing: Shrike spares Tom on Airhaven after realising Hester is in love with Tom, though the film made no build-up towards the revelation, which makes the romantic arc feel rushed and out of place.
    • The subplot where Katherine aims to found out what Valentine is working on is also entirely pointless since the movie already established that he is the villain and that his plan is to reconstruct MEDUSA to breach the Shield Wall.
  11. A lot of world-building and history from the source material is completely thrown out, making the film's world feel very shallow and uninteresting.
  12. While the acting is generally okay, no-one aside from Hugo Weaving, Patrick Malahide, and Stephen Lang really stands out very much.
  13. Cringe-worthy, corny, and generic dialogue with lines like “They’re playing with fire”, “You made me a promise”, “He saved my life”, and “I will kill you” as a few examples.
  14. Christian Rivers isn't nearly as good at directing large-scale action sequences as Peter Jackson (who produced and co-wrote the film).
  15. The climax and ending of the book is pointlessly changed, and is a direct mash-up of the climaxes from the original Star Wars trilogy.
  16. Despite Peter Jackson stating "It is in the hands of whether the film does the business that would warrant more", meaning he had no plans to continue the story after the movie was released. That probably explains why the ending felt very conclusive and gave no hint towards a future follow-up.
  17. The ending pulls the "I am your father" twist in total seriousness. Not only is this extremely clichéd for a film released in 2018, the twist is already obvious by about a third of the way through the film, and even from just watching the trailer!

Good Qualities

  1. Impressive production design on the cities.
  2. The visual effects are outstanding.
  3. Though there isn't a lot of it, there is faithfulness to the original novel outside of a few scenes being condensed or completely removed for runtime.
  4. Epic musical score by Tom Holkenborg.
  5. Robert Sheehan doesn't do a bad job at portraying Tom, even if his performance may still be cringe-worthy at times.
  6. Hugo Weaving and Patrick Malahide give pretty convincing performances as Thaddeus Valentine and Magnus Crome, respectively.
  7. Stephen Lang was a perfect choice for Shrike, and his portrayal of the character was great.
  8. The costumes are also very well made, even if they don't exactly match their book counterparts.


The film received mixed-to-negative reviews, and a 26% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes, making it the worst-reviewed film of executive producer Peter Jackson's career. To date, the film has only grossed around $83.7 million against a budget of $100 million: including marketing, it is estimated to have lost $103-150 million, making it one of the biggest box-office bombs in history. The novel's author Philip Reeve gave a positive review on the movie, praising Christian Rivers' directing, the film's pacing, and the actors' performances.


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