Review of Mortal Engines

The film Mortal Engines is based off a franchise by Phillip Reeve by the same name. Taking place on a post-apocalyptic Earth thousands of years in the future, the premise is surprisingly simple yet also very complex in scope: Cities, called “Traction Cities” are large tanks, constantly moving around to scavenge resources over a lifeless land. Stationary settlements still exist in the east, but for the most part, all cities and towns are moved around on large treads. While this idea may seem stupid, Peter Jackson, who was involved in writing the screenplay, managed to build a world that is as complex as the many mechanical parts that power the traction city.

            Mortal Engines begins with a short history of how the world got to the current state- the generic ‘everyone died out except for a few people’ scenario prevalent in most contemporary post-apocalyptic fiction remains unchanged. The world eventually became repopulated and then the Traction Cities were built. I found the aspect of the politics of these cities to be fascinating- for example, the city of London is still very large, but being on wheels and also scavenging for resources, London is considered to be a “predator city” or a city that attacks and dismantles other cities for resources like fuel. As a result, the structure of the new world- or at least the West- is a “survival of the fittest” scenario so called “Municipal Darwinism”. Also, interesting places featured in the film include a city floating in the air, like Cloud City from Star Wars, a slave trading town, and behind the tracks of London. The scale of the cities is surprisingly large- the tracks each city makes drastically shape the terrain and uproot several trees. The attention to detail portrayed throughout the film in terms of the world building is incredible.

            Also very noteworthy was the lore. Because the events take place in a post-apocalyptic world after several thousands of years, technology seen today is considered ancient and of very great interest. Mundane items like toasters and smartphones are called “Old Tech” and our current age the “Screen Age”. Tom is first seen as a historian who is collecting artifacts; his collection includes a computer and parts that once built a super-weapon. In the scrapheaps, Valentine finds a toaster that is battered and missing a few parts- this toaster is one of the best examples he has seen. The world still has enough development to be able to find and make technology like jet engines, seen on fighter planes, and guns. Considering most cities would not be able to find much resources because the world is mostly a small wasteland that is dotted by tracks from the cities and the trees, I wonder how those resources were gathered in the first place. As someone mildly interested in logistics and greatly interested in engineering, I can’t help but wonder how the economy works between cities, towns, and also what the political structure is like. I hope there is a sequel or at the very least a Netflix Original based on this concept, as it seems like a idea that can develop into an amazing franchise, which is rare in the age of remakes and rebooted TV shows with a heavy political twist.

            The plotline and story development feel natural, but also occasionally leave a bit to be desired at times. The premise is as such: Hester Shaw is on a personal mission to stop the mobile city of London from using a super-weapon and destroying the static settlement of the “Anti-Tractionists”, who are much more prosperous than the rest of the world. Along the way, she meets a historian, Tom Natzworthy and they both must stop Thaddeus Valentine from Destroying the Anti-Tractionist movement. The plot felt predictable- the two unlikely characters meet, eventually reveal their backstories and then fight their way back and save the day. I did not like Hester’s character for the most part- she was constantly on edge, which felt very unnecessary at times. Tom on the other hand was the opposite: he was gullible and na├»ve. While it managed to work out well in the end, Tom and Hester were characterized as the stereotypical opposing groups. The way the plot unfolded, however, was very harrowing at times- for example, when Valentine throws Tom out of London, it feels like a complete betrayal of what I was led to believe. In the beginning, I had though Hester was, in fact, the antagonist of the movie. Also, very interesting was the introduction of the character Shrike. Shrike is a cross between a zombie and a human- he was created to be a killing machine and we see him presented as such. However, Hester reveals that she was raised by Shrike, and that adds a new dimension to the story- instead of Shrike as a monster, he is seen as a character at conflict with himself. I found the ending to be a bit too happy, as the ending was filled with classic tropes- Tom and Hester fall for each other and London’s residents live in the Anti-Tractionist city, presumably without any form of conflict. I think that the ending would have been better had one or two unintended consequences arose, forcing the characters to confront them in a sequel. However, Mortal Engines manages to build a story that is followable and enjoyable. Usually movie adaptions of books tend to fail, but Mortal Engines is one of the ones that managed to be successful.

In summary, I found that Mortal Engines is an enjoyable movie with a lot of attention paid to the intricate details of the world it portrayed. The characters were interesting enough to pay attention to yet also sock enough to be familiar to every audience. While the ending and the beginning of the movie left much to be desired- the trope of two people suddenly being forced together and becoming good friends is uncreative, even more so, since the two main characters fell in love at the end- the rest of the movie was filled with enough action to hope for a sequel.