2 (out of 4)
YA novel adaptations had their time in the sun but at this point trying to cash in on the faded fad is embarrassing. The Hunger Games briefly took residence in the void left by Harry Potter but since both disappointing Part's of the Mockingjay have long flown, the flashes in the pan since (your Divergent's and your Maze Runner's) haven't lasted long. From afar, Mortal Engines posited itself to revivify a dying trend of teen fantasies but its lack of pulse on arrival is more like the final nail in the coffin.
Alas, even with the screenwriting trio for The Lord of the Rings, Mortal Engines spins familiar tales as robotically as those enormous mechanized wheels. As always with the latest universe to develop, the hook (cities on the go, yippee) and the introduction to a newish world gets you involved and thinking, but the adventure in wait requires vested interest in stock characters. Lamentably, for all its intriguing trappings and borderline blockbuster commercial setup, audiences have barely taken the effort to shrug – it's the flop of 2018 and Universal is expected to lose as much money as they gambled.
The script by Peter Jackson – as well as his wife Fran Walsh and collaborator Phillipa Boyens – is far too truncated and whittled down to bare essentials to leave room for character development and an organic progression of stakes. Our key heroes and villains are so damn one-dimensional and every side character contributes little beyond explanatory exposition. It's no great sign that director and Jackson's right hand man Christian Rivers has no real filmmaking voice overpowering the belabored aesthetics and visual effects, neat as they often are. Obviously there’s not a minimum nine hours and three movies to dwell upon a gaggle of personalities as with this team's last two trilogies, but Mortal Engines is exclusively world-building and bustling plot and suffers enormously as such.
But 100 million dollars was never spent so efficiently. On every visual front, from set construction to costume design to CG 'splosions, Mortal Engines at least has the veneer of epic grandiosity. The production design is full of genuine craft but the script feels entirely rushed, like if a five-hour movie had every other page ripped from its screenplay. There are more than enough details of the dystopian cosplay wonderland to continually pique one's curiosity but the film plateaus halfway through and settles for predictable payoffs and dimensionless conclusions after the tour is over.
The film’s first act has something going but by the exhausting third act it can’t end sooner. Mortal Engines fundamentally fails to escape a sense of mediocrity that slowly envelops the film before taking it over completely by the routine special effects smackdown. Clearly the 2001 novel has imagination to spare in terms of contemporary youth fiction. The futuristic fantasy steampunk inspired Jackson and, especially just from the first and best scene, you can see the cinematic experience he dreamt of imparting. Too bad this film's moment for greatness and recognition is long past.
To keep it brief...
Soon to Come:
so many briefings
The Absolute State
of /tv/: Film on 4chan