McCoy on Movies: Mortal Engines

McCoy on Movies: Mortal Engines

by -

Mortal Engines is a big-budget live-action steampunk movie, but does it lose steam before it reaches its dystopian future finish line? See what our critic has to say.


“Hold on tight, everybody … There’s a movie plot ahead of us to finish!” Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan, left) and Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) look on as Anna Fang (Jihae) drives in a scene from MORTAL ENGINES, directed by Christian Rivers, and written by Fran Walsh, Phillpa Boyens and Peter Jackson (based on the novel by Philip Reeve). Credit: Mark Pokorny / Universal Pictures and MRC. © 2018 Universal Pictures. All rights reserved.




KEY CAST MEMBERS: Hera Hilmer, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Robert Sheehan, Lelia George, Patrick Malahide, Ronan Raftery and Stephen Lang as Shrike

DIRECTOR(S): Christian Rivers

WEBSITE: http://mortalengines.comTHE BACK STORY: Based on the series of books by Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines is set in a dystopian future where humans have, once again, scorched the earth (which apparently has suffered from massive land shifting, possibly due to earthquakes), leaving little in the way of resources. And town and cities have become rolling landmasses on wheels fighting for them.

That’s right. Cities. Are. Now. On. Wheels. Rollin’ – and the big ones like London led by Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving) devour every city in their path.

But while Thaddeus’ daughter Katherine (Leila George) and local museum worker Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) look up to Thaddeus Valentine, Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmer) knows the truth – and the scar she has across her face is one of the reminders she has of Valentine’s truly devious nature. Which is why she is determined to stop him at any cost before he tries to take down the Shield Wall, housing Anti-Traction League, a.k.a. the groups of people like Anna Fang (Jihae) that wish to stop London (and anything like it) from taking over the rest of the new world.The only question is whether or not their efforts will be too late since Valentine’s search for “old tech” is nearly complete …

THE REVIEW: Ever seen a movie that, like a song on the radio, hits all the familiar beats to make it a hit but lacks anything distinct about it to make you remember it? If you’d like the cinematic equivalent of that all-too-familiar feeling, Mortal Engines is like that unnamed band mentioned in the previous sentence.While you can tell its talented lead singer – in this case, the angsty Hilmer – is doing all she can to let the music play while the label tries its hardest to prop up her pretty but not up to the same level of skill co-star (Sheehan) while the co-stars (Jihae) look the part. But when you play listen closely, their lyrics – in this case, Mortal Engines’ inane dialogue/bad one liners – just fail to move you. And while your best friend might make a compelling case (Stephen Lang’s performance as the robotic Shrike is a scene stealer, the rolling cities are cool to watch on screen), you’ll keep pointing out other elements (Weaving’s villain is a poor man’s Star Wars’ baddie, almost every scene feels predictable and a rip-off of a better movie) that just leave you thinking this band is all style over substance. 

If you’re a fan of regular top 40 music, you’ll likely find Mortal Engines to be an enjoyable-enough diversion from constant debates about whether a song from the 1940s no longer fits on modern radio or the type of person who posts on Facebook about you wish you could get away from all the negativity you see everyday. But guess what? That’s not gonna stop people from talking about either of those things – and Mortal Engines, bless its cast’s and crew’s collective hearts, isn’t gonna stop making most people wish it just didn’t seem so familiar.

For it’s the little cinematic engine that could have been better.


Tabari McCoy
Columnist - Tabari McCoy is Cincy Chic's movie critic. An award-winning stand-up comedian who also works as the public relations director at Cincinnati Museum Center, Tabari McCoy is the creator of McCoy on Movies, a blog about movies for film fans. The blog is written by someone who also likes movies that is smart enough to know his opinion isn't always the right one but is willing to express that opinion in public. McCoy also used to review movies for his college paper and a major metropolitan publication, so that helps add to his "street cred." Contact him at You can also check out more of his work on his blog at and follow him on Twitter at @tabarimccoy.