Mortal Engines Review – Narrative Hampers the Visual Awesomeness

The Peter Jackson produced and co-written Mortal Engines is now in theaters, but it’s not doing very well. Releasing alongside a new Spider-Man movie is playing into its box office misfortunes, but its weak narrative isn’t helping either. It could very well be one of the most innovative looking films ever made, but the insane visuals aren’t enough to make up for the ho-hum plot. 

You can check out my full review below in video or script forms. 

Hey now fans of movies Peter Jackson had a hand in creating, Matt Heywood here from to review Mortal Engines, or what I like to call, a steampunk Valerian, which may become a cult classic someday, but will surely be considered a box office bomb. 

Mortal Engines is a curious flick. On one hand it could be one of the most visually stunning looking films I’ve ever seen, while on the other, it suffers from a muddy narrative that just isn’t executed properly at all. It is very similar to Valerian in terms of its insane ambitions in telling a story requiring visual set pieces that can melt your mind with their intricacies, coupled with a relatively unknown IP, which results in a filmgoing experience that is less than spectacular, but sticks with you for one reason or another. 

While I enjoyed Valerian more than Mortal Engines, the latter isn’t a complete turd, as long as you ignore its box office failings. The opening 15 minutes alone provide some of the most unique action shots in cinema history, but once the main narrative kicks in, the allure of this killer opening is quickly lost in favor of hollow world building to give the audience a reason to care about the main characters. 

After the awesome opening, you’re left with plenty of exposition to flesh out the world and character motivations in Mortal Engines. You see, hundreds of years from now man destroys society as we know it in a 60-minute war. This gives rise to nomadic cities which literally drive around the Earth to snag up its remaining resources, while also digging up old technology. These cities eventually turn into predator cities, which literally ingest smaller cities for fuel and resources. 

There was also a faction of humans who were against the mobile cities, so they created a safe haven behind a shield wall to keep invading cities out. 

London, the world’s greatest predator city, is commanded by Thaddeus Valentine, who is played by Hugo Weaving, and is ready to change the world order, so he wants to attack the shield wall. 

Over the years he has been secretly gathering old tech to build a nuclear like weapon to attack the city, which is where the hero comes in in the form of Hester Shaw, who’s mother was killed by Valentine.

It’s this relationship between the antagonist and protagonist that makes up most of Mortal Engine’s plot, but it’s just not executed in an entertaining fashion. 

At times the acting is poor, while other scenes may just not be directed perfectly. A few scenes even feel like they were shot or framed incorrectly. When you couple all of these issues together, you end up with a pretty uninspiring narrative that only remains relatively interesting because of the pure eye candy that the sets and location environments provide. 

Mortal Engines is definitely up there with the Avatars and Valerians of the world in terms of the majestic looking visuals it provides. I could have spent an hour just pouring over every little detail of a London on tank treads. These mobile cities are just so breathtaking to look at that at times they help you get through the rather dull and poorly executed plot. 

The story just doesn’t hold up to the visuals, which is a shame, because with the expert design featured in this film, the overall experience could have been near magical if the narrative was even remotely engaging, but it’s just not for many reasons not worth discussing. 

You won’t feel for any of the characters, good or bad, they’re just characters, and outside of one somewhat emotional moment featuring a Terminator-like character, it’s hard to even sympathize with any of them and their experiences. I just feel like the writers and director got too cute with how the story was told, which was done in a way that teased potential character ties, but didn’t pay off on the obvious reveals until it was too late. By the time the full story is revealed, you’ve already mostly guessed it all, and found out that the mysteries and twists aren’t very interesting anyway. 

I definitely was hoping to be much more entertained by Mortal Engines than I was, but I don’t think it’s a complete waste of life either. Like other really far out concept movies such as Valerian, or even the Fifth Element, Mortal Engine’s fantastical aspects do give it potential to become a cult classic when it hits its home release. I personally want to see it again, mostly for the pure awesomeness of its visuals and the world it is set in. The concept, on paper, is very enjoyable, but on film, it just wasn’t executed properly to make it a must-see movie experience. 

Mortal Engines earns a 6 out of 10 review score from Team EB. If you’re into movies that may not be great narratively, but are insane to look at thanks to how imaginative their worlds are, then I’d recommend seeing it in theaters for the visual experience alone. Otherwise, this one can wait for your small screen. 

Thanks for watching, I’m Matt Heywood signing off for, where we make you a better geek, one post at a time.

Review Summary

Story - 3
Cinematography/Visual Design - 9.5
Sound - 8
Acting - 3.5
Entertainment Value - 6



If you like crazy ass movie concepts that feature ridiculously insane visual set pieces, then catching Mortal Engines in a theater may not be a bad idea. Otherwise, just wait on this one to hit the home release market thanks to its rather uninspired plot.

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Matt Heywood

The author Matt Heywood

Matt Heywood is the founder and EIC of where he strives to make you a better geek, one post at a time! When he’s not scouring the Internet for interesting nuggets of awesomeness he can be found in his secret lair enjoying the latest and greatest video games, taking pictures of toys, or talking Star Wars on EB’s Star Wars Time podcast show.