Mortal Engines has one good idea: put cities on wheels. The rest of the movie is a succession of clichés.
Humanity has nearly destroyed itself in the equivalent of a global nuclear war. What remains of Western civilization are bandits and imperialists. In the East, peace-loving people thrive behind the protection of an enormous wall. Angry girl Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) eventually mellows and falls in love with well-intended but naive boy Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), who together avert doomsday at the last minute.
The motives of villain Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving) aren’t explored beyond his stated desire to “save London” (now on caterpillar tracks and crowned by St Paul’s Cathedral) from running out of resources. The motives of freedom fighter Anna Fang (Jihae) are clear enough: to stop the so-called traction cities ravaging what remains of Earth. But the character is over-the-top. She was conveniently best friends with Hester’s deceased mother and swoops in to save her by taking on an army of barbarians singlehandedly.
Speaking of familiar connections, there is another reveal I won’t spoil, but one that is meant to be dramatic but actually contributes little to the plot.
The same goes for a tedious subplot involving Hester’s upbringing. It doesn’t advance the main storyline at all, which really could have used the time taken up by all these detours.
I would have liked to see more about how London and the other traction cities are run. There are hints of a class-based society, but it’s left pretty vague. Why did traction cities develop in the West and permanent settlements in the East? Why is everybody so obsessed with old-world tech?
At least the movie is visually impressive.