MORTAL ENGINES – Tagging Peter Jackson’s Name on it Won’t Save It

I am currently reading Philip Reeve’s MORTAL ENGINES book and am loving it. Kernel Jack stepped in to review the movie because I just can’t see it until I finish the book. Based on his review, however, I may skip it altogether. The film has been mass marketed as a Peter Jackson (LORD OF THE RINGS) movie and while he is one of four writers for the screenplay, for pre-existing material, and a producer, this is not his film in the slightest. That title belongs to Christian Rivers, making his debut directorial role, coming from the art department of most of Jackson’s movies. This makes sense, from Jack’s review, it looks awesome but everything else is sadly lacking.

But no one wants to hear me blabbing on, MORTAL ENGINES is out now from Universal Pictures, it is rated M and runs for 128mins. Enjoy Jack’s thoughts and happy popcorning……..all the best…….Salty.


Before heading into MORTAL ENGINES, I hadn’t paid that much attention to who was involved in the making of this movie. I’d seen one or two of the trailers, but barely gave them a second thought. Heck, I didn’t even know the runtime. While watching it, and realising the disaster this movie was quickly becoming, I started feeling bad for the people involved. This film felt like the work of first time screenwriters and directors who’d just gotten their big break adapting a best selling novel, but when the film finished and credits began, more than a few familiar names started popping up. Names like Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, the trio behind LORD OF THE RINGS, which made the complete and utter failure of MORTAL ENGINES even more puzzling.

MORTAL ENGINES Hera Hilmar image
Hera Hilmar


MORTAL ENGINES is set in the distant future, where disaster has laid waste to most of civilization. The continents have merged together, forming one giant supercontinent. Within this continent, each city lives on a gigantic car-like vehicle that speeds through the barren remains of what we once called Earth. Over in London, a young woman returns home with a plot to take vengeance over important leader, Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving). This woman’s name is Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), who, after an unfortunate set of circumstances, also has an undead reincarnated robot (Stephen Lang) on her trail.

MORTAL ENGINES Hugo Weaving image
Hugo Weaving


The premise of cities on wheels isn’t inherently terrible, and it’s a concept I can see working exceptionally in the form of a novel or comic book, but when adapted to the big screen, it’s never utilised in an interesting way. After countless monologues dumping exposition about the history of the world and how things came to be, the concept is basically abandoned and replaced with a generic on the run storyline that feels like a b-grade version of LORD OF THE RINGS, but with more cameos from the Minions from DESPICABLE ME. Seriously. I’m not even kidding. They have two scenes.

But, since this whole film is basically a LORD OF THE RINGS rip-off, and since LORD OF THE RINGS also has a very simple premise at its core, does MORTAL ENGINES at least do an interesting job at establishing and building upon its world with interesting, unique characters grounded in an emotionally satisfying story? Absolutely not. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you any of the character’s names had it not been for the power of IMDb. They’re lifeless, generic and uninteresting. Even THE HOBBIT did a better job at establishing character, and that had a whole bunch of indistinguishable dwarfs.



The central plot between Shaw and Valentine is underdeveloped and bats you over the head with its inevitable outcome. Shaw will suddenly break down into pointless backstory every twenty minutes, even after stating how strongly she doesn’t want to go into her backstory, but each time she broke into a monologue I gave less and less of a shit. I honestly can’t recall if Valentine even had a motive in this film. That being said, I did spend most of MORTAL ENGINES’ runtime zoning out and contemplating my entire life. Easy to do with all the pretty CGI colours bubbling around on the screen.

Some interesting action set pieces do arrive when Stephen Lang’s monstrous Shrike comes into the mix (get ready for some obvious parallels to the Nazgûl). His villainous character is the only one who seems to get a believable, understandable arc, and his backstory actually makes sense. Why he’s in this film, I have no idea, but he should’ve been the main focus. His action sequences come at personal cost, while the big explosion-filled ones just feel like white noise. One of his final moments on screen is hilariously over the top though, but hey, at least it made me feel some sort of emotion, unlike the rest of the film, although it certainly wasn’t the emotion the filmmakers intended.

MORTAL ENGINES Robert Sheehan, Hera Hilmar, and Leifur Sigurdarson image
Robert Sheehan, Hera Hilmar, and Leifur Sigurdarson


I have no idea how this film ended. It’s only been a couple of days since I left the theatre and I seriously can’t recall. Something about big explosions, lots of crying, generic dialogue, unearned character arcs, a big chase through the sky, and a noticeable lack of cities on wheels. I don’t really care enough. This film is bad. Oh, so very bad. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of setup for a sequel. Characters such as Katherine (Leila George) and Bevis (Ronan Raftery) surely must return, or else their extensive and irrelevant screen time has absolutely no use in a film that already feels like its three hours long. I guess we’ll have to wait and find out in the sequel that’s never going to get made.


When he’s not spending an embarrassing amount of hours browsing through Netflix, Jack Dignan dedicates his time to reviewing movies of all genres and languages. He has done so since 2012. He also maintains a website of his own – – and ever since their interview, he’s been best friends with Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino just doesn’t know it yet. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.