Mortal Engines (2018): ‘All World, No Story’ – A Film Review



The science fiction book, Mortal Engines, by Philip Reeve appears like one of the modern steam punk tales. Successfully spanning into a quadrilogy series and a prequel trilogy, the book was given the possibility to be a film by Peter Jackson in 2009. Penning a script with Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, it is no surprise that the team behind The Lord of the Rings would offer up another fantastical world. This time, however, Christian Rivers is down to direct after a background of special effects and short films. This will be his first feature length film and his background with Peter Jackson would explain how much of an influence that the writer producer may have on this project.


The World

Simply put, this recipe of the film’s crew, leads to strengths in areas that you’d expect. The visual world of this film is breath-taking and stunning. The design of the characters and the engines themselves, really lead to a thoroughly built world. It can really feel like these areas are real. Despite the similarities that the concepts may share to things like Final Fantasy (particularly the feel of Final Fantasy 7) and The Crimson Permanent Assurance and Star Wars, this film operates on its own enough to render these similarities, maybe just coincidental. In fact, it’s a nice addition to Steam Punk, in an industry that doesn’t have enough Steam Punk in it.


The Story

That being said, after the world, they’re not quite sure where to go with it. This actually feels the fault of the book over the film – as it keeps a good amount of similarity – but it feels rather basic. The actors strive to keep this entertaining and powerful and they largely succeed in this, but they are held back by the script. This particularly applies in the ending, but works with other plot points as well. SPOILERS: Like the beginning of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, the ending of Mortal Engines allows a group of a very few, to achieve too much under the circumstances. In fact, this ending is almost completely lifted from a Star Wars plotline – massively destructive weapon being taken on by a desperate few. Though Star Wars handles this much better. END OF SPOILERS.



It’s, visually, a film to watch and its world building is impressive enough to warrant more additions to the story. Though it has started in a rather basic area with simple motivations but well-acted with an amazing cast. It won’t be the best of them, but it certainly has earned its spot amongst Fantasy, Science Fiction and Steam Punk films. Hopefully, it might encourage many more Steam Punk films to come. Some may even be better, if they can handle the weight of the superb world building.



In a post-apocalyptic future, cities have been developed to move and consume other cities for sustenance. This has rendered technology at a standstill and progress into the future seems bleak. Valentine (Hugo Weaving), a famous Scavenger/Historian, is attacked by a girl, Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar); despite his widespread popularity, it would appear that his intentions may have a darker side.





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A Note on My Reviews

Please read ‘On Reviews‘ for a guide to how I write film reviews. Any spoilers are appropriately marked and, though I personally prefer to know little about a film before seeing it, there is a synopsis below the review for any who wish to see one.


Films Mentioned

Mortal Engines (d. Christian Rivers USA/New Zealand 2018)

Star Wars (d. George Lucas USA 1977)

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (d. Rian Johnson USA 2017)

The Crimson Permanent Assurance (d. Terry Gilliam UK 1983)

The Lord of the Rings (d. Peter Jackson USA/New Zealand 200120022003)


Further Reading

Official Site

Interview with Christian Rivers and Peter Jackson

Interview with Cast

Interview with Peter Jackson and Phillipa Boyens

Behind the Scenes

Concept Art

Special Effects Featurette

Model Maker


If you liked this

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) – A Film Review

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017): ‘Failure and the Risk of the New’ – A Film Review

Pacific Rim Uprising (2018): ‘Too Many Threads’ – A Film Review


This was an analytical review of….


Mortal Engines (d. Christian Rivers USA/New Zealand 2018)

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