A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mortal Engines is a sci-fi/fantasy movie based on a young adult novel by Philip Reeve and adapted and produced by Peter Jackson (among others). Big fans of the book and/or steampunk enthusiasts may like it, but others are likely to find it mechanical and derivative. It's too childish for most teens and too brutally violent for most children, especially in the climactic battle. There's frequent gun use and shooting, plus explosions, stabbing, and slicing, with blood. Characters die, sometimes quite violently. Viewers can also expect to see a scary robot-skeleton monster and plenty of other intense, creepy images. Language is on the mild side but includes "damn," "hell," "bastard," etc. There's an extremely tame romance between the main female and male characters; they touch hands, gaze into each other's eyes, and finally hug.
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What's the story?
In MORTAL ENGINES, it's the distant future, and the world has been ravaged. Cities are now giant roving vehicles that are constantly searching for food and fuel. The biggest is London, where Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving) is collecting old tech to build something in secret. Meanwhile, a girl from the wastelands, Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), makes her way onboard London and tries to kill Valentine. She's stopped by a historian named Tom (Robert Sheehan), who works at the city's museum. Hester and Tom are both dropped into the wastes, where they're rescued by a rebel pilot, Anna Fang (Jihae). Unfortunately, a "resurrected" monster (Stephen Lang) is after Hester, and Valentine's daughter, Katherine (Leila George), discovers what her father is really up to. Can the good guys stop the villains in time?
Is it any good?
Simpleminded and mechanical, this movie clumsily borrows from every sci-fi/fantasy movie of the last 40 years, smushing everything together with inept filmmaking and a total lack of logic or emotion. Based on a young adult novel by Philip Reeve and -- shockingly -- adapted by Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, and Fran Walsh, Mortal Engines does have some cool costumes and production design, but that only goes so far. The rest is numbingly familiar. The movie doesn't even seem to take any joy in its copying; rather than paying homage to anything, it's a slavish, soulless piece of work, as if done by a computer cut-and-paste application.
It's not even any fun. It's certainly too childish for teen viewers -- but it's also too brutally violent for younger viewers. The sloppily shot and hastily cut action sequences are piled on top of other scenes that don't stick to any kind of character logic or need; everything that happens serves only the plot. The dialogue is wince-inducing, and characters spend most of the movie either scowling (trying to look cool) or staring slack-jawed at some impressive piece of scenery. By the end, it becomes painfully clear that most of the incessant stealing can be traced to the Star Wars movies; Mortal Engines has the dubious honor of making even the worst entries in that series look accomplished and admirable.
Talk to your kids about ...
What is "steampunk," and why is it interesting/appealing?
Why do we tell post-apocalyptic stories? What can we learn from them about the present?
Does the movie represent a wide array of cultures? Are the representations positive or negative?
- In theaters: December 14, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: March 12, 2019
- Cast: Hera Hilmar, JiHAE, Hugo Weaving, Robert Sheehan
- Director: Christian Rivers
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Book Characters
- Run time: 128 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sequences of futuristic violence and action
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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