The Age Of Rust And Scowls: The Plot of ‘Mortal Engines’ Recreated With Reviews

Senior Editor
12.18.18 12 Comments


There’s a special place in my heart for ambitious, megabudget disasters. I respect what Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets could’ve been, if not what it was, and I still think about Jupiter Ascending on a regular basis. These are the kinds of movies that generally win Razzies, which is why I’ve always hated the Razzies. Taking a big swing is something to be admired, even if it doesn’t always work out. There are movies much more deserving of scorn, projects like Tomb Raider, craven IP maintenance from the start that you start to forget before they’re even over. Those are the projects that deserve Razzies.

Mortal Engines at least seems ambitious. Yet it’s hard not to feel like it was released at the wrong time. In the midst of a crowded award season comes a huge CGI steampunk adventure based on a book most of us probably haven’t read. I didn’t see it, and not out of any particular malice. I just had to allocate my time elsewhere.

It seems I wasn’t the only one. The $110 million Peter Jackson-produced adventure earned only $7.5 million in North America this weekend, to go along with 28% recommended on Rottentomatoes and a B- Cinemascore. Universal and Media Rights Capital are reportedly looking at a $100 million loss.

It may not have worked out, but at least it looked… interesting? Definitely, it was full of… stuff!

I thought it was at least worth finding out what was going on with Mortal Engines before it goes away, so I’m returning to Plot Recreated With Reviews, a feature in which we attempt to piece together the entire plot of a movie using nothing but summary quotes (no analysis!) from reviews. In my mind, the best way to experience a failed movie is having it explained to you by exasperated critics.


“Mortal Engines” begins with the usual voiceover informing us how (Rogert

the world has been ruined by a “60-minute war” that took out much of civilization, (Arizona Republic)

sending technology back to the Victorian era as it did so. That’s right. Grab your goggles, tinkerers and tea-sippers: It’s steampunk time! (AV Club)

Now the world itself, in the 38th century, (LA Times) is unmoored, as predator cities scavenge the globe for what’s left of its resources. (

Following the principles of something called Municipal Darwinism, (LA Times) London plows across Europe on caterpillar tracks, chewing up smaller towns in its path. (New Yorker)

How this engineering feat was achieved is not addressed. (

London is ravenous, yet not genocidal. Residents of swallowed towns are offered refuge in the city, although a public announcement warns that “children may be temporarily separated from parents.” (NPR)

The residents of those other cities are then absorbed into London’s lower classes, who live on the bottom tier, next to its eternally churning engine. (AV Club)

The upper tiers are populated by historians, traders, engineers, and navigators (AV Club) in frock coats festooned with gold braid. (Washington Post)

The communities on board London have museums filled with ancient junk from our current times; known as “The Screen Age,” our era is reduced to statues of Minions (Detroit News), referred to as “the American deities,” in a cute, if all too rare joke. (Washington Post)

It was the age of rust and scowls. (Seattle Times)

London is hauling ass and hunkering down on a much smaller “Romanian mining town,” hoping to steal its salt. On that town is Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) ( introduced wearing a red bandanna that hides a scarred face. (LA Times)

Within the first 10 minutes alone, we meet nearly a dozen characters who seem to have relevance, but then fail to appear on-screen long enough for us to develop our own feelings for them. (Globe And Mail)

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