Mortal Engines: A Guide to the Movie's Steampunk World

Mortal Engines

WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Mortal Engines, in theaters now.

One of the most difficult tasks in cinema today is to provide audiences with something truly unique. Director Christian Rivers' Mortal Engines attempts just that by constructing its world on top of the civilization we already know. The story takes place across a reshaped, post-apocalyptic Europe and Asia, where major cities mere made mobile a thousand years after a great cataclysm. Resources are scarce and tensions are high as these so-called predator cities hunt and fight each other while static settlements simply try to survive.

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Amid all of that explosive action, it might be difficult to keep track of each city, and its importance in the plot. That's why we're here. We'll go through the major locations in the film, detailing their roles and, when necessary, their people and governments.



The mammoth moving city of the film's antagonists is the former British capital of London. While many of its iconic structures were clearly lost over the centuries, ancient buildings like St. Paul's Cathedral still stand. In fact, the cathedral has quite an important role as the secret construction site of the city's quantum-energy weapon, Medusa.

The film presents London as the most powerful of the predator cities, which prey on smaller mobile towns to acquire resources necessary to power the mobile structure. London's buildings are pristine, and a portion of its people are able to live in the lap of luxury. They're led by a mayor, Magnus Crome (Patrick Malahide), or at least they were until Crome's protege, Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), takes over in a coup launched shortly after the unveiling of his superweapon.



In Mortal Engines, there are a variety of mobile cities, and not all of them pose threats. Although it's never made clear in the film, author Philip Reeve's novels describe scav cities as small traction cities. They're too small to attack other cities, and so their inhabitants, often pirates and other ruffians, follow larger cities, scavenging for scraps.

Already you can imagine that it's not an easy life. Valentine grew up on one such city, although it's never said which one, which explains his determination and ruthlessness. The film shows just a few smaller towns that fit the description of scav cities, such as the two that attack Hester and Tom around the tracks of a major city.



Known as Salthook in the novels, Salzhaken is a small mining town that appears in the beginning of the film. Hester spends just a short while on the city before it's devoured for resources by London. The city appears to be one of the more peaceful places in Mortal Engines where, at least until its destruction, its citizens could enjoy humble but quiet lives.

The town serves as an example of what life is like in the world of Mortal Engines: dangerous and unforgiving. If the people do survive the brutal chase, they're likely to see their possessions destroyed and their families torn apart (albeit temporarily, according to the announcements).



Not all cities are limited to slowly rolling across barren landscapes. Airhaven is an example of the cities float among the clouds, carried by large inflated balloons, free of the horrors below.

Mortal Engines depicts Airhaven as a sanctuary of sorts, where people can live in relative peace. The Anti-Tractionists were free to convene there without risk of attack from cities like London. The only downside seems to be that the entire city is easily destroyed, as it is following the arrival of the undead Shrike (Stephen Lang).



The surprisingly green Rustwater Marshes serve as a place where small scav cities and mining towns convene to trade. However, because the marshes are difficult for mobile cities to navigate, this meeting point is used for more nefarious forms of transactions. We're talking about the sale of prisoners by scav cities.

The cities flee from the marshes when Fang comes to rescue Hester and Tom from the auction at the same time Shrike arrives to annihilate Hester. After a series of explosions and a lot of gunfire, the marshes are left ruined and empty.



We only see one static city in Mortal Engines, and its the walled land of Shan Guo, the city we see is built along a mountain range and a large wall that seems to separate Europe from Asia. Unlike the hunting grounds of predator cities like London, Shan Guo is surrounded by lush, green landscapes beneath beautiful white mountains.

The deciding battle between London and the Anti-Tractionists takes place outside the wall of Shan Guo; it's where Valentine reveals his weapon to the world. With the help of Medusa, the quantum-energy weapon, Valentine is very nearly able to completely tear down the wall leading to Shan Guo and the resources it guards.

Directed by Christian Rivers, Mortal Engines stars Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Leila George, Ronan Raftery, Patrick Malahide and Stephen Lang. The film is in theaters now.

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