Mortal Engines

Film Reviews and Television


A Film and TV Review by Tim Riley

“MORTAL ENGINES” Rated PG-13 There is a temptation to declare “Mortal Engines” dead on arrival, but for a film advertised as coming from the filmmakers of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” it cannot be easily dismissed as a complete misfire.

Fascination usually follows storylines about a dystopian future that is so bleak and disturbing that one has to be gratefully satisfied to be alive in our contemporary times. What is unique, if at all, about “Mortal Engines” is that unlike the violent marauders on motorbikes and souped-up vintage cars in the post-apocalyptic “Mad Max,” here the pillagers of the land run an entire city on wheels.

The premise is rather simple.  Under the cutthroat vision of Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), the city of London (minus many of its famous monuments) is a gigantic moving metropolis roaming the earth and preying upon smaller so-called traction cities. Dwelling in a lower tier of London, Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) is a historian and custodian of artifacts from the ancient world (mostly household items from our current world).

 In the film’s best scene, the great traction city of London devours a smaller one in a tense chase across desolate rural lands.  The inhabitants are captured and auctioned off into slavery.  Apparently, human behavior has not evolved beyond a more primitive time. One of the captives is the feral Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), a fiercely-driven young woman with a deep facial scar who only has in mind revenge for the death of her mother at the hands of Valentine.

Hester’s primitive nature is explained by the fact the19th-century by Shrike (Stephen Lang), a nine-foot tall, dead-eyed resurrected soldier robotic in appearance who possesses a human soul that has him turn violently possessive when Hester strikes out on her own. Besides linking up reluctantly with Tom, who gets expelled from London by the wicked Valentine, Hester finds an ally in Anna Fang (Jihae), a dangerous outlaw with a bounty on her head who gets fully engaged in the fight against Valentine’s plans to use a deadly super-weapon.

The filmmakers describe this futuristic world as a “Victorian steampunk aesthetic,” which explains that science fantasy blends technology with designs inspired by 19th century industrial steam-powered machinery. Fittingly enough, steampunk tops everything else, from script to acting, to create some impressive visuals that mask the otherwise banal and incoherent plotting of “Mortal Engines,” which seemed to have the potential to do so much better.


Standup comedians have successfully taken their talent to the confines of the small screen in television series, probably none more profitably than Jerry Seinfeld.  Moreover, Tim Allen and Ray Romano, to name a few, have been and remain popular TV stars.

Lil Rel Howery, who gained notice as the TSA Agent in “Get Out,” has moved on from lounge acts into the new sitcom “Rel,” a show that seems at least loosely based on the central character’s past experiences.

An interesting twist in “Rel” is that Sinbad, who could be considered one of the earlier black standup comedians (okay, I’m leaving out Bill Cosby but not Redd Foxx) transitioning to TV stardom, plays the role of Rel’s cynical father.

Working at a Chicago hospital as a male nurse, Rel’s life is turned upside down when he discovers that his wife is having an affair with his barber.  As the series begins, she’s already moved to Cleveland, taking their two young kids and the furniture. Rel’s father doesn’t have the most delicate touch.  Upon entering church for Sunday services, he expresses disappointment with his son’s marital status, saying “All that money I spent on you for glasses and you didn’t see this coming.”

In the early going, Rel finds himself the butt of jokes in the neighborhood, getting teased mercilessly, even by strangers on the bus, for the adulterous cause of his marital meltdown.  His father is bound to pile on to punctuate the laughter before a live audience. Meanwhile, his family and friends, to some extent, try to provide moral support. His best friend Brittany (Jessica Moore) amuses with her sassy behavior, while younger brother Nat (Jordan L. Jones), recently released from prison, throws in some zingers.

Trying to get back into the dating game, as you can imagine, won’t go smoothly, especially when Rel hopes that dancing with a girl could get others to think he’s stealing her away from her boyfriend.  Yeah, the ruse explodes like a hand grenade tossed in a foxhole. Appreciation of “Rel” could well depend on one’s familiarity with Lil Rel Howery’s standup routines.  The show itself comes off as relatively formulaic but there are glimmers of creative possibilities in the early going.  Enjoyment of the series could become a waiting game.