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‘Mortal Engines’ – Review

‘Mortal Engines’ – Review

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The geniuses at Weta Digital go all out with Mortal Engines, a blockbuster of enormous size that rolls into cinemas with colossal visual spectacle.

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.

Helming the wheel of this grand cinematic vision is Christian Rivers, Peter Jackson’s long-time protegee who is finally stepping up to the plate to direct with Mortal Engines, and he really smashes a home run here. Rivers has been a pupil to Jackson ever since he was 17 and started working for Weta as a storyboard artist on Braindead. Since then he has worked on all of Jackson’s films and has lent his considerable visual talent to helping create some of the most memorable fantasy worlds ever seen on film.

Now with Mortal Engines, the student has become the master and Rivers vision of a living, thriving steampunk universe comes to life with breathtaking visual flair. Led by his instincts as an artist, Rivers and his team at Weta craft a visually dazzling piece of film that handles every part of Mortal Engines thrilling story with exceptional craftsmanship. Watching this film you can just feel Rivers passion for the world that he is bringing to life and this really shows through in the film’s adrenaline-packed action sequences. As an audience member, I’m very glad that Rivers finally got his chance to direct because his talent is considerable and it thoroughly expresses itself with this mammoth cinematic production.

In watching Mortal Engines you really feel that art and design lead every part of this film’s creation. Whether it’s narrative, character, art design, set design, costuming or Mortal Engines impressive visual effects, you can feel the hands of pure craftsmanship at work here. We’ve never encountered a steampunk universe like this before and everything you see here has been custom made for the film. The attention to detail and passion for craft seeps through onto the screen and you almost feel like you can touch the dust and age of the artifacts that adorn the walls of the Museum of London. Everything has an organic look and feel to it and the effort that has been placed on realizing this film really grounds you inside this massive world where there are countless sites to take your breath away.

If you’re looking to get your adrenaline up then Mortal Engines will definitely provide the rush you’ve been seeking. It snaps into action with a monumental chase sequence that establishes the size and dominance of the predator city of London and everything surges forth very quickly. Soon our protagonists Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) and Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) are thrown into a race for survival as they find themselves trapped in a dangerous conspiracy that they have to stop at all costs. Whether its the force of London rolling across everything in its path, or the thrilling heights of outlaw pilot Anna Fang’s (Jihae) crimson airship The Jenny Haniver soaring through the sky, you’ll feel the film’s exhilarating thrills at every step….and they’ll knock you back into your seat.

Mortal Engines also marks the arrival of a pair of great new talents in the form of Hera Hilmar’s Hester Shaw and Robert Sheehan’s Tom Natsworthy. Both characters stand in contrast to one another and in Hilmar we find the feral Hester Shaw whose burning desire for vengeance shields her deep sense of loss and pain. It’s a breakout performance for Hilmar and she thoroughly commands your attention up on screen with her dynamic physicality and wide emotional range. Hester is a heroine you can believe in and you really want her to win out against the immense forces that stand in her way of justice. In direct contrast to this wild child stands Sheehan’s Natsworthy, a somewhat sheltered ‘city boy’ from London who is serving as an apprentice historian and who dreams of the world outside, but who has never known anything but the sound of his city’s roaring engines. Sheehan brings a burgeoning desire of optimistic discovery to his character in Mortal Engines and his journey is one of considerable character change. Together Hilmar and Sheehan undertake a grand adventure and it’s one where they will have to learn to trust one another and work together to save their world from extinction once more.

Bringing a dark sense of malice to the film as the chief antagonist is celebrated actor Hugo Weaving as Thaddeus Valentine, Head of the Guild of Historians and a man whose understanding of the past has given him a clear way to capture the future. Weaving brings a refined intelligence and craftiness to the role of Valentine and he’s a calculating man whose dangerous desire for power will have consequences for all. Weaving has a great presence within the film and he provides Hilmar and Sheehan with a clear focus for their combined power to try and save the world and stop Valentine and London in its tracks.

The immense size and scope of Mortal Engines will continually roll over you with each new scene and the action doesn’t let up for a second. This is a piece of cinema that every single person, whether they be cast or crew, has put all of their heart and soul into and this passion for bringing this enormous world to life really leaves an impression on the audience. It’s utterly marvellous and this first chapter of the Mortal Engines saga thoroughly gripped me thanks to its narrative and world building and I now have a desire to see the further adventures of Hester, Tom and the great traction cities of the world.

Mortal Engines is an exhilarating ride from beginning to end and audiences will be mesmerized by the monumental visuals that they get to witness up on screen as they are pulled further into an incredibly exciting adventure. Blockbusters need to go big and they certainly don’t get much bigger than Mortal Engines.

Image: Universal Pictures