Nearly a decade after Peter Jackson purchased the film rights to Philip Reeve's young adult novel, Mortal Engines is finally barreling into theaters nationwide this weekend. However, judging from the consensus of film critics, the post-apocalyptic adventure may not be worth the wait
Following a cataclysmic event known as the "Sixty Minute War," the remnants of humanity have reconstructed have transformed the world's great cities into mobile predators that devour other, smaller ones for their resources. It's against that backdrop that hero Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) seeks to exact revenge against her mother's killer, Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), and stop his plan to use London to destroy the opposition, the Anti-Traction League.
While Reeve's novel was generally well-received, the same cannot be said for the adaptation by director Christian Rivers, a longtime Jackson collaborator. Mortal Engines holds an unremarkable score of 33 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics saying the film "lacks enough high-octane narrative fuel to give this futuristic fantasy sufficient cinematic combustion," despite the "eye-catching special effects" work put in by Jackson's Academy Award-winning visual effects company, Weta Digital.
With 59 reviews tallied by the aggregator site, and more still to come, it's unlikely the Tomatometer score will improve. Here's a selection of some of the most devastating reviews of Mortal Engines:
Josh Bell, CBR: "The bombastic score, the in-your-face effects, and the loud, incoherent plot team up to bully the audience into having a good time, but the movie ends up simply wearing itself out. Rather than the opening chapter of a grand, new saga, it’s a hyperactive dead end."
Andrew Barker, Variety: "For all its flashy digital scene-setting, Mortal Engines is rarely capable of staging impactful sequences within that scenery, and attempts to draw broad parallels to Brexit and Trump's family separation policy fall quite flat. After cribbing from Mad Max, Howl's Moving Castle, BioShock Infinite, and The Terminator throughout, the film finally throws up its hands and goes full Star Wars for its desultory finale. You certainly can't accuse Rivers of undue subtlety, with every emotion dialed up to 11 at all times, matched for volume by Junkie XL's maximalist, omnipresent score."
Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly: "Mortal Engines looks like it cost a billion bucks. If only as much originality had gone into its beats-by-Joseph Campbell narrative as its Baron Munchausen-for-teens set design. The actors, apart from the always-dependable Weaving, don't add much screen presence to their hand-me-down roles. It's also an oppressively busy film with a drums-of-war score that won't be happy until it cudgels you into submission."
Beth Elderkin, iO9: "When a movie designed to cash in on a fad takes almost a decade to come to fruition, it's going to come in at a disadvantage. Hunger Games has been over for years. Maze Runner barely skirted through with its final movie in January. Divergent was killed off before it could even finish. People aren't interested in dystopian fiction anymore. If you're going to release a movie that few people are clamoring to see, following a trend that's been near extinction for years, you have to do something to make it stand apart. Mortal Engines didn't do that. It exists, and that's pretty much it. The film might have some impressive visual effects, but the movie belongs in a museum."
Josh Spiegel, Slashfilm: "Mortal Engines owes a debt it can't possibly repay to other films that it quotes without sufficient citation; even its best subplot has the distinct sense of being a melange of other stories. I sat down to watch this film, in hopes of figuring out what it was all about. Having seen the thing, I'm still not sure."
Edward Douglas, The Weekend Warrior: "Other than Hugo Weaving and the unrecognizable Lang, this is a cast with so little charisma you rarely care about any of the characters, nor can you keep track of who is good, who is bad, who is this or that person? Are they important? Do we care if they die? That’s not a good place to be when you're hit in the head with so much narrative and so many wild locations and vehicles, which granted, are quite glorious to behold. Regardless, Mortal Engines feels like a big-screen Y.A. adaptation coming too late in the game when the Twilight and Hunger Games franchises have managed to sate that audience's appetite, which tries to hit us over the head with a "war is bad" message, which is also likely to fall on deaf ears. Better idea? Skip this and go see Peter Jackson's WWI doc on Monday instead, because there's just so much more to get out of that movie then watching this one."
Kevin Harley, The List: "An imposing but unwieldy hodgepodge of fragments from other films, it lurches between gargantuan sets and set-pieces with little sense of grace or pace, let alone space for emotional engagement."
Shaun Munro, Flickering Myth: "But of course, Mortal Engines' genuinely brilliant visual effects have a low ceiling placed on them by the soulless drivel that passes for a plot and the utter lack of joy with which it's fired through. Unless you're a fan of the source material or can derive some ironic thrills out of gone-off tropes being recycled this aggressively, this is strictly an all-sizzle, no-steak affair. Visually stunning yet thunderously dull, Mortal Engines squanders its Mad Max-for-teens hook with an over-serving of generic YA slop."
Jo Berry, Movies4Kids: "It seems the filmmakers were spending so much time making the movie look good with their junkyard capital of moving scrap topped by St Paul's Cathedral that they forgot to make it interesting or believable. Instead it's a sorry mess that borrows from Mad Max and Brazil as well as just about every teen dystopian movie you can think of, while stealing flying sequences straight out of Star Wars and having a female bounty hunter who looks like she has watched The Matrix one too many times. At least they steal from the best."
Brian Orndorf, Blu-ray.com: "It's clear that smaller, personal stories better represent Jackson's cinematic talents, as he wrings more personality and soul out of 100-year-old war footage than he does with the expensive, ultra-modern Mortal Engines, co-scripting and producing a formulaic overview of YA cliches and blockbuster excesses. It's a very large movie, but its hollow, trying to play the potential franchise long game with material that's barely tolerable for a single picture."
Directed by Christian Rivers, Mortal Engines stars Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide and Stephen Lang. The film hits theaters Friday nationwide.