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Laramie Movie Scope: Mortal Engines

An epic tale of revenge and lust for power

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 19, 2018 – This big budget, effects-laden movie about a strange post-apocalyptic world where predator cities roll around on tank-like treads looks great, but the story of romance and revenge is just barely adequate. Directed by Christian Rivers and written by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh (“Lord of the Rings”) this movie is set in a truly unique time and place.

Christian Rivers has worked primarily as a storyboard artist and pre-visualization artist on a number Peter Jackson-directed movies, gets a real baptism of fire here as a first time director of a monster movie like this, and he doesn't do too badly, considering his lack of experience. Not surprisingly, the stunning visuals show off Rivers' artistic talents.

The main character, Hester Shaw (played by Icelandic Actress Hera Hilmar of “An Ordinary Man”) is on the run from a nightmarish assassin, but she heads into even more danger, boarding a motorized predator city, London, in order to avenge herself on the city's leader, Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving of “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”). Valentine is the man who murdered Shaw's mother.

Somehow, she manages to stab Valentine, but he doesn't die. Shaw escapes London after being pursued by police, Valentine, and a young historian, Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan of “Geostorm”). Valentine pushes Tom off the moving city because he has learned too much about Valentine and his relationship to Hester Shaw's mother.

This dystopian future, based on the book by Philip Reeve, has mobile cities devouring other cities (called “Municipal Darwinism”) for vital resources. This came about because of a terrible military weapon called MEDUSA was used in the “Sixty Minute War.” MEDUSA destabilized the earth's crust.

Outside these so-called “Traction Cities” are wild and lawless lands where slavery and cannibalism exist. Safe behind massive walls and impassible mountains are old-style cities, in the “Anti-Traction League” territories. None of this makes sense, but it makes for a somewhat original movie.

Tom and Hester are thrown together in this lawless land, and after a time develop a relationship. Tom, a city boy, cannot survive on his own. Hester is a survivor, left for dead as a child, she has survived in the wild for a long time. The two are rescued from slavers and a cyborg-like assassin by Anna Fang (Jihae of the “Mars” mini-series). They travel together to a floating city suspended by hydrogen-filled balloons.

There it is discovered that Valentine is overseeing the construction of a MEDUSA weapon, using a blueprint and spare parts left over by “The Ancients” from before the war. Valentine plans to use this apocalyptic weapon to breach the wall protecting the Anti-Traction League's main territory in the mountains of Asia (a land bridge enabled London to cross into Europe and Asia). London will then be able to devour the resources behind the wall.

A desperate plan is devised to stop London from firing the weapon, using a computer code discovered by Hester's mother to shut it down, but the key code has to be delivered in person inside St. Paul's Cathedral in London, where the weapon is housed.

I guess some people have trouble following the plot of this movie. I followed it all right, despite not having read the book. The characters are thin, and the film probably should have spent more time developing the story, but it does work as an action film, and there is action aplenty. These Traction Cities are very impressive, as are the airplanes, the floating city, the massive walls and other visual marvels in this film. This film rates a C+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2018 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)

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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]