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Mortal Engines

Films set in a post-apocalyptic world tend to be rather dour affairs. It would be under the circumstances but works such as ‘Mad Max’ and ‘Waterworld’ don’t bode well for humanity’s future. ‘Mortal Engines’ presents a more interesting take on the course the world may take. Its interpretation of a steampunk infused universe provides an eye-catching gloss with the hint of optimism showing the path ahead may not be so bleak.

In a world where entire cities are motorised and prey on each other, its inhabitants are continually cautious. Tom (Robert Sheehan) gets caught up in an assassination plot against powerful industrialist Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving). The would-be assassin, Hester (Hera Hilmar), blames Thaddeus for her mother’s death. Events swiftly unravel as the machinations of evil do their best to prevent unspeakable secrets from being discovered.

Based on Phillip Reeve’s novel ‘Mortal Engines’ is a collage of famous moments from other films. ‘Star Wars’ and the ‘Indiana Jones’ series receive nods amongst the dazzling CGI. Whilst such copying would sink similar productions, ‘Mortal Engines’ thrives due to its novel concept and fine performances. The screenplay and Christian Rivers’ strong direction ensure things feel fresh and move at a great pace. They assure you are fully invested in this odd universe of mechanical marvels and fully fleshed out characters.

Weaving has a grand time as a very wicked villain as does the rest of the cast who dive into the fantastical antics with gusto. The special effects and photography are excellent with the musical score pleasing to the ears. Although the story relies on contrived clichés it’s an amiable enough ride with the villainy and heroics captivating in equal measures. The imaginative scope and the film’s scale demand it be seen on a big screen with a genuinely tense race to the fiery finale.

Amidst a glut of sci-fi and fantasy films ‘Mortal Engines’ carves a solid place amongst the crowd. It is entertaining escapist fun without the cynical heart others have. Fans of such works should enjoy it with the steampunk movement sure to receive a boost from this magical caper.

Rating out of 10: 7

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’ shows what can happen when an author writes a screenplay. Cinema history has been littered with successful novelists thinking they can also pen hit movie scripts. This hasn’t always been the case with few writers having the skill to effectively switch between two very different mediums. J.K. Rowling writes only her second screenplay for this ‘Fantastic Beasts’ sequel which is part of the popular ‘Harry Potter’ universe. Sadly it proves that Rowling shouldn’t give up her day job with a lacklustre script quickly sinking into murky confusion.

After powerful dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes custody, he sets about gathering a new band of followers. Aiming to raise wizards and witches so they can rule over non-magical beings, Grindelwald’s plans capture the attention of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). With the help of an assortment of wizards, they attempt to hold back Grindelwald’s ruthless power before their world is torn asunder.

Although beautiful to look at, ‘Fantastic Beasts: the Crimes of Grindelwald’ is a chore to watch. For fans of the Potter series, who know every minute detail, this may please. For others, who simply want to watch a well-rounded and clearly scripted film, boredom may quickly sink in. There are far too many characters and sub-plots to squeeze into an already over-long movie with Rowling failing to capture the magic of previous Potter films. Those were written by better scriptwriters who knew the basic mechanics of film screenplays.

That isn’t to say ‘Fantastic Beasts 2’ is a total loss as it is clear money has been spent on opulent production design and CGI. These successfully convey the magical world in which all live with the excellent musical arrangements mirroring those of earlier instalments. The performers do their best to not look too confused at the increasingly messy plot with Depp bringing energy in a generally pedestrian production. Overall it feels like a set up for further sequels instead of being its own entity – a mistake a more experienced film writer would have avoided.

‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’ is fair entertainment but could have been much better. Whilst spectacle is provided, it’s done without much heart as all go through the motions until the next sequel. It will still make a fortune as ‘Harry Potter’ fans are nothing if not loyal. But such loyalty will be sorely needed if more mediocre works like this reach the silver screen.

Rating out of 10: 5