Mortal Engines (2018) might be the best new release I’ve seen this year. So far, I’ve seen around 35 movies. I’ve got about 4 or 5 left for the rest of the year, so something could potentially throw this off the top, but even with all the great buzz around Mary Poppins Returns, I don’t think it will happen.
So, in the last week, I’ve seen two films (so far), and both were way above expectation. In fact both are in my top ten. The other was Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and like Mortal Engines, this came out of nowhere, and was totally enjoyable.
This movie basically came out of nowhere as far as I was concerned. I had seen the trailer, and hoped it would be good, but there wasn’t much buzz around it. Even with the power of Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) behind it, most of the other December movies seemed to be getting a lot more marketing action around them. I mean Aquaman has been all the buzz for quite some time (including its release date moving, and Jason Momoa appearing on SNL).
Did I mention that I really loved it?
Let me put it this way: this movie is about giant, mobile predatory cities. Whaaaat? You might ask. Yes, Giant, mobile predatory cities. How does that work? The first ten minutes of the film feature one city chasing another, and it is without a doubt one of the best action sequences of the year. It will really hook you in, and the visuals that it introduces don’t let up. There is one moment where the giant, evil city of London comes up on a group of smaller cities trading at a common market. Just watching the smaller cities separate, and all the mechanical intricacies of that are a joy to behold. If you are into steampunk-ish mechanical stuff, just go watch this movie to see how they put it on screen.
I really can’t praise the production and art design of this movie enough. They take a random, weird concept, and make it appear believable. Who would think that you could buy giant cities driving around, or a floating one.
OK, that leads me into a weird area of this review. Someone once said, if you are going to steal concepts, steal from the best. Well, Mortal Engines steals scenes, shot for shot and even the lines, from a lot of my favorite films (so they really stood out). Here’s the thing, they do a great job with it, so I didn’t even care. Here are some movies that scenes and lines are clearly pulled from: Star Wars (ROTJ), Alien 3, Flash Gordon Terminator 1 and 2, etc. For instance, look at the poster I included. Doesn’t the main character, Hester Shaw, look like she’s an assassin for COBRA?
Normally, I would have included this as an “Easter Egg” section, but these shots really could be laid over the others, and they would look the same. Like for real, the Alien 3 moment so stands out, it is ridiculous. This movie has such a good spirit, though that it gets a total pass on lifting the scenes, lines, etc.
One thing I appreciated about this film is that Christian Rivers directed it. Not that it was him that directed it, but rather his background, being allowed to helm it, and that he totally pulled it off.
Check out his filmography, he jumped from directing smaller films to this major production. This is deceiving, however, as he is not only an Oscar winning effects artist, but he has been doing the storyboards for Peter Jackson for years. It is clear that this was a beneficial relationship for both he and Jackson. Rivers ability to visualize the film, not only for what we got to see, but to present it in a totally Jackson style are totally apparent. I would say that Rivers follow up to Jackson is a superior performance to James McTeigue’s work on V For Vendetta- he had been the assistant director on the Matrix films among others, and learned the Wachowski’s style.
This film is a great mix of Mad Max, Stardust, and the Terminator. It’s totally a fast paced, fun action film with what are some of the best visuals of the last few years. The CGi is seamless, and really, this is one time when I can say that they could not have been done better with practicals. Some aspects, yes, but the majority, no.
This is a beautiful film. Go watch it just to see the visuals in action. The story will compliment them well, and I promise, you will have a good time.
Hundreds of years after civilization was destroyed by a cataclysmic event, a mysterious young woman, Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), emerges as the only one who can stop London — now a giant, predator city on wheels — from devouring everything in its path. Feral, and fiercely driven by the memory of her mother, Hester joins forces with Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), an outcast from London, along with Anna Fang (Jihae), a dangerous outlaw with a bounty on her head.