Mortal Engines review – Peter Jackson’s brilliant, bombastic escapism breaks exciting new ground
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Verdict: Peter Jackson's adaptation of Philip Reeve's award-winning sci-fi YA uses recognisable and much loved motifs to introduce a new generation of cinemagoers to the power of Star Wars-like escapism. Without watching a trailer, Mortal Engines is a bit hard to sell because the concept is ridiculous when you say it out loud. In the far future, after an apocalyptic nuclear war, resources are so scarce that the majority of the survivors put their cities on wheels and hunt smaller towns (also on wheels) for sustenance. Then again, Peter Jackson probably doesn’t have much difficulty in pitching batshit bonkers ideas to studios, given his CV. What suspends the audience’s disbelief with the force of a SpaceX rocket is the sumptuous world-building, both visually and in Philip Reeve’s electric in-world vernacular: reverential talk of the “Great Predator-Cities”, “Traction-Towns”, “Air-Haven” (yes, a city in the sky), the “anti-tractionists of Shan Guo”, as well as unvisited, enticing-sounding locations like the “Ice-City of Archangel”, sucks you right into the ridiculous world of Mortal Engines. Every place, organisation, or person wistfully spoken of feels like it deserves Capital Letters, part of the fantasy mystique of the world-building. Visually, the world is magnetic and exciting in its escapism, something it achieves through a heady mix of the recognisable and the alien, and every visit to a new location fosters a sense of wonder more effectively than the Star Wars films do. Everything in-world is a mash of aesthetics, all cannibalised, all recognisable as something else. The sheer scale of everything is incredible, breath-taking. Everything not human is huge and loud, and the “mortal” aspect of the Mortal Engines is truly felt the first time London stampedes into view. There’s a mechanical filthiness about the film – a primal sense of the sputtering, belching, fossil-fuel-guzzling, Earth-wrecking internal combustion engine which hopefully future generations won’t recognise as viscerally as a modern audience does. There's a despair at ecological catastrophy lurking around this film which makes the audience painfully aware of the filthiness of our modern era. Some of the effects of the warfare later in the film are truly boneshaking – there were several audible gasps in the audience when the MEDUSA weapon went off.
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