Review: Mortal Engines

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Director: Christian Rivers

Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, & Peter Jackson, Based on the book by Philip Reeve

Starring: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George

Genre: Science-Fiction, Thriller, Action

Rating: PG-13

December 2017 while seeing the Last Jedi, the Mortal Engines teaser played and I was immediately interested. Months later I read the book to prepare for the film and I really enjoyed this classic British science-fiction story. With Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, and Fran Walsh as writers for the film, I knew it would be at least a visually fun romp.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images:  A young girl and a man are sliced across the face with a sword, a character is sliced across the thigh, and a man is stabbed with a knife. Characters fall from a great height screaming. A character shoots another character point blank though the shot character it isn’t shown. War scenes with dozens of death from explosions. An undead character called a Stalker has a corpse-like appearance that can be a bit disturbing. A character collects broken doll heads which could be a bit unsettling for some viewers.

Language/Crude Humor: Minor swearing including d*** and h*** uttered only a few times.

Spiritual Content: A character prays to a stone idol.

Sexual Content: A couple is implied to have had a child out of wedlock.

Drug/Alcohol Reference: None.

Other Negative Content: Lying and abandoning comrades to protect oneself.

Positive Content: Characters have upward character arcs and learn to grow past old wounds and trust others again. A character embraces what he really wants in life instead of what is expected. There’s a very interesting arc with one character about what it would be like to not feel pain anymore because of all she’s been through. Someone who’s gone through any great pain can understand that sometimes it’s tempting to just wipe it all away, but doing that doesn’t solve the problem and may in the end not make one feel better.


Screen “adaptions” of novels can be a very loose term. There seem to be two sides of the spectrum. There are adaptions who have directors and writers who have their own vision of the story and just use characters of the same name and similar world building. Then those with directors and writers who fall in love with the source material and try to do it justice. In case anyone hasn’t noticed by now, the latter are more successful. Peter Jackson was in love with the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit and made the best films he possibly could, ones that I think Tolkien would be proud of and, though the box office numbers may disagree, I believe fans of Mortal Engines can agree that he and Philippa and Fran really took the source material into account.

Mortal Engines is a very bizarre story with insane worldbuilding. The characters are unusual and memorable, all but the protagonist ironically. I feel like many classic British stories have a very blank protagonist then a dynamic cast of side characters such as Arthur Dent from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and even Bilbo Baggins from the Hobbit. But Peter Jackon helped breathe more life into the character of Thomas Natsworthy, taking elements of his backstory and even adding some elements to make him more realistic. Robert Sheehan gave Tom far more personality and even more depth. It goes to show how a good actor can even improve upon an established character.

Unlike the book, the film focuses more on Hester Shaw who was, to be honest, the more interesting character over Tom. In the novel, Tom seemed like the typical ordinary protagonist who gets dragged along by a far more interesting side character. Hera Hilmar stole the show portraying her and really added depth to Hester. I felt more even more sympathetic for her than in the book. Her origins seemed to be focused upon giving more reason about why the way she is. Jihae made a fantastic Anna Fang and Hugo Weaving did a good job as Thaddeus Valentine even though his motivations were slightly altered.

One of my gripes is I really enjoyed Katherine and Bevis’s roles in the book but they weren’t highlighted as much and seemed even a bit unnecessary at times. My second gripe is some of the dialogue was a little contrived to establish worldbuilding since there’s just so much of it. Speaking of worldbuilding I really felt transported to an entirely new world far in the future. From the costume designs to hairstyles to weaponry to the setting it was incredibly tangible.

I’ve seen reviewers complain about the predictable storyline but this is a classic British story on the lines of Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings. When coming into this film expect a tale with a hero’s journey and an uplifting conclusion. Nowadays viewers seem to be more focused on gray characters with dark backstories who will stab each other in the back at any turn. It was refreshing to watch a film that harkens back to Star Wars and The Chronicles of Narnia with protagonists who truly want to help others over themselves and actually have a positive character arc instead of sinking into the depths of gloom. I was thoroughly entertained throughout.

This won’t be an Oscar darling (because most of them seem to be required to be rated R unless they’re animated), but it took me on a journey that left me with a smile as the credits played. If you’re expecting gore and grit you won’t be satisfied, but if you’re looking for a story that harkens to classic storytelling in a fantastical world with virtuous characters then you’re in for a good time.



The Bottom Line


Victoria Grace Howell

Victoria Grace Howell is an artist and aspiring speculative fiction writer. She received Teen Writer of the Year in 2014 at the Florida Christian Writers Conference , a conference she attended since 2010, and the Believers Trust Award in 2015. When she's not writing her books or articles, she enjoys drawing her characters, playing the piano and practicing Kung Fu.

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