After a massive geological shift of the planet, the cities of the future now move across Earth on wheels that devour smaller cities. When a historian (Robert Sheehan) stops an assassination attempt on Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), a leading figure in London society, he's thrown out in the wilderness with Hester (Hera Hilmar), a rebel assassin who shares a dark past with Thaddeus Valentine.
In a lot of ways, it's easy to see why Peter Jackson decided to take on 'Mortal Engines' and make it into a movie. The source novel is laden down with heavy exposition, literally reams and reams of world-building, and beneath that lies a story of a plucky young duo who are cast against forces beyond comprehension. Given how successful and ground-breaking 'Lord of the Rings' was, it's no wonder Jackson thought that he could repeat the process here. Making something that seems fundamentally inadaptable is kind of his forte. Instead, what you're left with is a confusing, woefully edited mess of a movie that is not only bland, but so bland that it's ultimately forgettable.
'Mortal Engines' opens with a brief explainer of the world before it pivots straight into the action and expects the audience to go along with it. Before long, it moves from the initial introduction of the idea of 'predator cities' to a spread-out cast of characters that are so tenuously linked to one another, and so fleetingly introduced, that it becomes nigh on impossible to keep up with it. For a movie that's all about forward momentum and paces itself on this, it doesn't give it a second to let any of the characters sit and develop. This, in turn, makes it extremely difficult to actually care about anything that happens. We're shown flashbacks of characters' early life, but it's all cut and pasted together at such a breakneck speed that it just doesn't register on an emotional level or a narrative level.
Even the visual effects, which look amazing, aren't given a moment to actually sit and be taken in - because the editing and pace of the story just keeps it all pushing forward no matter what. Before the ending comes along, you're really not even sure what's happening or why it's happening. Hugo Weaving, bless him, is doing his best with what he's been given and the same goes for Stephen Lang, Hera Hilmar and Jihae - but none of it makes a bit of difference when they're just rattling off their exposition-heavy lines without any kind of emotional context.
It's hard to know where the fault lies with 'Mortal Engines', whether with the untested director Christian Rivers taking on too much in his first film, whether it was the script by veterans like Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens and Peter Jackson, or just the fact that the very concept itself was too daft to work. Whatever it may be, one thing's for certain - 'Mortal Engines' is missing a lot of necessary components and quickly falls apart before it even gets moving.