When trailers for Mortal Engines started popping up in theaters, I was excited to see Peter Jackson and his Kiwi creative team connected to a new fantasy universe with no relation to Middle Earth. I was equally disappointed when the reviews rolled in and were largely negative. We’re parents now and have to be choosy with our movies, so we determined that Mortal Engines was off the list; however, we found ourselves with some free time and a family member interested in seeing it. With low expectations, we went to the theater.
This is probably the best possible mindset to see Engines. If you’re looking for an original story, compelling characters, star-making performances, or subtle themes, then you’d best look elsewhere. Story wise, there aren’t too many surprises with familiar beats along pretty much the entire length. That being said, the visuals and energy of the film are what make it compelling. Starting with the opening chase between London and a small Bavarian village–all mobile in this version of the apocalypse–it’s clear that this movie’s style is Mad Max meets Studio Ghibli with some Firefly and Hunger Games sprinkled in. The world feels well-developed and kept my interest the entire time despite the familiar tropes and story elements. Unlike the Hobbit movies, I didn’t feel the strain of a bloated running time or thin plot–the story ran at a decent clip and wasn’t weighed down by unnecessary subplots or excessive action sequences. I also didn’t feel insulted by overly bad writing. Overall, I was very entertained.
The story could have used some revisions and the film was poorly marketed, so this is going to be a flop. However, if you’re willing to check your brain at the door, this is a great popcorn movie. Just go in with the appropriate expectations.