Review: Peter Jackson’s ‘Mortal Engines’ dazzles with spectacle, falls flat with character

Imagine “Star Wars” if a city-sized tank with a Union Jack was the Death Star and everybody was trying to be Han Solo, and you get the gist of the post-post-apocalyptic epic “Mortal Engines.” 

Philip Reeve’s young-adult book gets an expansive world-building adaptation courtesy of a master. Peter Jackson (“The Lord of the Rings”) co-writes and produces while his protégé Christian Rivers makes his directorial debut (★★½ out of four; rated PG-13; in theaters nationwide Dec. 14) with a tale of freedom fighters rallying to take on the antagonistic London, a supervillain on treads that eats smaller cities in a motorized landscape before it literally rolls over the entire globe.

First photos: It’s city-eat-city in Peter Jackson’s ‘Mortal Engines’

Indeed, this is the kind of visual spectacle where Jackson excels, like “Mad Max” meets “Godzilla,” with cool airborne metropolises, all manner of winged and wheeled vehicles, a Terminator-like undead robotic guy and dizzying action. Unfortunately, there’s not much room left for fleshed-out personalities or narrative depth, making the whiz-bang wonder often feel too empty.

“Mortal Engines” is set several centuries after the calamitous Sixty Minute War, wherein civilization was wiped out – save for some choice souvenirs that nerdy historian Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) keeps safe in a museum onboard London. (The guy is a true connoisseur of vintage toasters.)

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