Is humanity doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past?
Mortal Engines, directed by Christian Rivers and produced by the talented minds behind The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, is a fantasy-adventure film set in a post-apocalyptic, steampunk future where cities have been mobilised on wheels and prey on each other.
The film takes place hundreds of years after civilisation was obliterated by a cataclysmic, man-made event, that led to the destruction of the world as we knew it. Since then, humanity has found a way to rebuild, with a new world order in place, wherein London, a giant, predator city on wheels, journeys across the world in exploration, devouring everything in its path along the way.
Driven by vengeance, feral outcast, Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), finds herself working alongside historical tech specialist, Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), and those who oppose mobile cities to stop Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), the brains behind London, from his crusade.
Right from the onset, the film is filled with fast paced action that thrills the audience. The film doesn’t dawdle and dives straight into the crux of the narrative. The world of Mortal Engines is set and an introduction to London is given, along with that of the main characters.
Normally, I tend to prefer films that allow for a decent build up as well as enough time for some world building and character development. Surprisingly, the lack of in depth characterisation did not put me off and seemed unnecessary, illustrating that the story can be easily told through the action of the film, which was done seamlessly.
The narrative was intriguing. Isn’t it interesting how many stories there are about what happens to civilisation after humanity dooms itself? It seems that there are more and more theories out there that puts forth the notion that mankind will be the reason for their own destruction, and judging from history, as well as the way humanity is today, this seems to be a fairly accurate prediction.
The film interestingly tells us, through Valentine’s desperate attempt for London to overcome all obstacles and conquer, that humanity is doomed to repeat the same cycle as their ancestors, despite past mistakes being made blatantly obvious.
Humanity’s quest for power is apparent and despite learning that it is this flaw which caused the destruction of civilisation in the past, mankind continues the pursuit for power. In many ways, it was rather amusing to see London attempt to travel to the East, to conquer what has been thought to be unconquerable. This attempt felt eerily similar to the way the British of the old plundered through continents and traveled the world in attempt to conquer and colonise other countries, particularly those in the East.
This similarity to British history came to mind as London’s citizens were made predominantly of Caucasians and those of British-African descent, whereas those living in harmony in static cities behind the great wall in the East were noticeably made up of those of Asian, Indian and Polynesian descent, along with other ethnicities. It made me wonder if this portrayal of ‘people’ behind the wall represented the countries that the British colonised in their quest for ‘world domination’.
It was also rather interesting to see how backward technology is despite being centuries in the future, illustrating the point that mankind had to rebuild from scratch. Whether they learnt from the positives of the past wasn’t inherently obvious, though it was amusing to learn about the current civilisation’s thoughts on the past during the opening scene at the museum.
The one quote from the film that truly stuck with me was that which was said by Valentine’s daughter when she learnt that mankind had kept making technological advancements but instead of using it for the good of the collective, used it instead to assert power on one another, which led to war and destruction:
“I can’t believe these highly intelligent, superior beings, were so stupid”
From a viewer’s point of view, the pacing of the film was perfect. There were no long pauses, no drawn out dialogue and the action sequences kept us on the edge of our feet. This was greatly helped by the film’s soundtrack and incredible visuals. There are few graphical and visual geniuses in the world and Weta Digital is certainly one of them. The large, captivating landscapes were a sight to behold, particularly the static city behind the wall which was filled with rich colours. The mobile cities and vehicles were also greatly detailed and realistic that for a moment, I wondered if what I saw before me was a likelihood of our future.
The characters were interesting in their own right, each with a story to tell that made their contribution to the film all the more valuable. Much like that of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, it is the characters and their journey that makes sequels a possibility.
All in all, I was really taken by Mortal Engines, more so than any other steampunk fantasy-adventure film. With a gripping storyline, thrilling action and characters that were intriguing, this is definitely one you should watch, especially if you’re a fan of Peter Jackson and company.