Sunday, December 16, 2018


Mortal Engines opens with the earth in the Universal logo suddenly stricken with disaster. Sickly purple explosions detonate on every continent. Life as we know it is over. Not since Waterworld has a post-apocalyptic action adventure gotten this quickly to the setup. By the time the movie proper begins, a thousand years have passed. Society has reconstituted itself on wheels. But this is no Mad Max. No, my friends, whole cities are on wheels. These are enormous, rumbling, smoke-belching monstrosities, with entire urban centers perched atop gargantuan engines and even bigger tank tread tires. The big cities, like London, slam across the scraggly European countryside, in pursuit of smaller cities they can harpoon and pull in to strip down for parts and resources. Municipal Darwinism, our villain sneers. A neat colonialism parable, too, especially as the film concerns a plucky multicultural group of rebels angling to take down London before it can execute its dastardly plan to take over the globe at gunpoint. As adapted from Philip Reeve's book by Lord of the Rings’ braintrust Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens, and directed by that team's effects, pre-visualisation, and assistant director Christian Rivers, this new feature is a big fantasy adventure full of steampunk swashbuckling and a bevy of stylistic influences. It’s a bit Jackson, yes, but also the Wachowskis, George Lucas, James Cameron, Hayao Miyazaki and Terry Gilliam. It’s stuffed with stentorian exposition, rigorous bric-a-brac design overflowing world-building whimsy, intensely vivid pulp emotion, and large-scale action told in clear, splashy, sequences of thrills, chills, and spills. There is a joy to be found in a movie of this blockbuster appeal following its bliss in opening a new world for us to play around in. Expansive enough to accommodate its visual enormity (mind-boggling cityscapes on the run), but intimate enough to sell its oddball ideas (say, a deranged fatherly zombie terminator that’s both terrifying and, ultimately, some sort of heartbreaking), the movie bursts with ideas and adventure charting a new, yet familiar, course. The tone is pure earnest adventure, completely unembarrassed of its straight-faced jaunt through the sturdiest and broadest blockbuster myth making. It has a scarred orphan (Hera Hilmar) out for revenge, a pretty city boy (Robert Sheehan) about to be converted to the plight of the underclass, a stylish rebel (Jihae) in a flowing red coat and cool little sunglasses, a scene-gnawing villain (Hugo Weaving) out to swallow up anyone who gets in his way. It has a variety of clever set pieces — in a land of blimps, a scuzzy slave market and slimy hodgepodge outlaw towns, a floating oil-rig-turned-prison. And, above all, it has the visceral and imaginative pleasures of those big cities racing each other across ancient irradiated landscapes with a massive bass rumble in the soundtrack. What a blast!

No comments:

Post a Comment