Mortal Engines is enjoyable, with nice ideas, great design and big effects, but ultimately is overly reliant on cliched plot points.
London is a futuristic steampunk city on wheels that travels the countryside consuming smaller towns for resources. Tom (Robert Sheehan) is a Londoner historian who gets mixed up in an assassination attempt on bad guy Valentine (Hugo Weaving) by Hester (Hera Hilmar). Valentine is plotting bad stuff and it’s up to Tom and Hester to save the day, travelling across the post-apocalyptic countryside and finding friends and foes as they do.
Mortal Engines is based on the young adult book series by Phillip Reeve. The script is by Peter Jackson and Phillipa Boyens, the husband and wife team that brought us The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, and while they stay true to some of the first book, they diverge significantly in other areas—probably more than most fans would like. A few story elements appear to have been dumbed-down and some overtly political subtext injected. There are a number of plot cliches we’ve seen before and they stand out like the proverbial sore thumb. This doesn’t benefit the movie.
Whilst I enjoyed most of Mortal Engines, what I liked the most was Weta Workshop’s amazing design work and the prolific use of real sets. There’s lots of lovely CGI on display, of course, which, aside from some poor compositing in two scenes, is of a high standard.
Mortal Engines is not the best adaption of a YA book I’ve seen (the Harry Potter and Hunger Games movies remain the gold standard), but it’s good looking and fun. Just ignore some of the ham-fisted cliches that pepper the plot.