Film Review: Mortal Engines (2018)

There are few aesthetics that I like more than steampunk. Futuristic tech with old-timey designs and styles? Sign me up! So it follows that I’d love Mortal Engines, but I didn’t realise how much I would love it. I’ve had the book for a while but haven’t got around to reading it yet, so I didn’t really know what the film was about besides moving cities.

*spoilers*

The storyline follows Hester Shaw, an orphan in a world far in the future after war and massive technology have ravaged the land, leaving only predator cities and at risk stationary settlements. One powerful city, London, consumes smaller cities, stripping them for parts and stealing from the citizens. The opening scene is London chasing Salzhaken, a tiny city with salt stores. When the inhabitants are shepherded into London and their things are taken from them, Hester slips through with her blade and stabs the city’s leading archaeologist and deputy mayor, Thaddeus Valentine. Hester escapes and Tom, an admirer of Valentine’s, chases after her. She tries to jump off the city and he grabs her. She tells him that Valentine killed her mother before yanking free and falling. Seconds later, Valentine pushes Tom off the side of the city for having heard the secret. He tells his daughter, Tom’s friend Kate, that he fell to his death.

On the ground, stuck in the great tyre treads of London, Hester picks Tom’s pockets and sets off, furious at having failed to kill Valentine. Tom follows, unable to shut up and now doubting everything he’s ever known. The two are found by scavengers who bring them to a slave market where they’re subsequently rescued by Anna Fang, the most notorious assassin on the continent. Let me just say that Anna Fang is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING. She has the most gorgeous plane, for starters. It looks more like a badass flying lantern. She’s also proficient in all weaponry and fights for the Anti-Traction League, a group against the predator cities.

The trio are chased by a new enemy, Shrike, a ‘Stalker’ who is more machine than man, and who is obsessed with killing Hester for ‘breaking her promise’. It’s revealed by Hester that Shrike raised her after he found her near death and saw her as his child. Shrike doesn’t have a heart, but remnants of his past life as a human bleed through and there is genuine affection there. We also learn that Shrike found Hester days after her mother Pandora was killed by Valentine after she discovered an ancient piece of technology that he wanted to control. I really, really enjoyed the Shrike storyline. It’s utterly distressing but in a very well written way, and Hester’s relationship with him was a poignant background story.

Back on London, Kate befriends Bevis, an Irish mechanic who witnessed Valentine shoving Tom off London and agrees to help her find out what her father is up to. I appreciated how quickly everyone got on the same page. There was no wishy-washiness about the characters, no bargaining or bullshit. The characters adapted to situations quickly and maturely, and Kate and Bevis as a pair are just as dynamic as Hester and Tom.

Everything comes to a head at Shan Guo, the great wall barrier that protects settler cities from predator cities. The final show down was fast paced and cathartic: Tom gets to test his flying skills, Hester has her showdown with Valentine, Kate plays an essential role, as does Anna. For everyone who has ever wanted a movie that doesn’t sideline its female characters, this one’s for you!

It must also be said that I loved everyone’s outfits in this movie: Hester’s outfit, Anna’s outfit, Tom’s outfit – it’s a steampunk DREAM, lads. Truly, truly stunning. The design of the cities was gorgeous and inspired. The shout-outs to history and culture had me in awe, too. There were a lot of great current analogies and throw away lines that were brilliant.

The ending was great, too. I honestly loved every aspect of this movie and thoroughly, thoroughly recommend it. ♡

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