Review: Mortal Engines is visually dazzling, but overly cluttered

These Mortal Engines are revving up and ready to roar onto a big screen near you, hell-bent on making a truck-tonne of fans and metric truck-tonne of box office moolah.

Newbie Christian Rivers is at the helm, but with many years working alongside Sir Peter Jackson he is more than qualified to lead the charge here, while Sir Peter sits back in his producer's chair with a weather eye on proceedings.

The film is based on the bestselling book by British author Philip Reeve which is a cracking read. There's much to weave into a screenplay and needless to say the narrative has been considerably streamlined; but the essence of the story remains the same.

This is a future world where the planet's surface has been reduced to an uninhabitable wasteland and where vast cities roll around on gargantuan wheels devouring the smaller cities as they go, harvesting their resources and enslaving the populace. The largest and hungriest of these traction cities, is London.

It's onboard London where most of the first act of this story unfolds and where we meet two very important men; Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving) and Tom Natsworthy (Robbie Sheehan). Valentine is one of London's great heroes, Natsworthy is a young naive historian trying to make his way. The arrival of the mysterious Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) will bring the two men together and set all three of them on a wild and perilous journey, as a hunt for revenge becomes a far bigger mission altogether.

While Weaving is a frequent Sir Peter collaborator, the other main roles here are occupied by relative big screen newcomers. Irishman Sheehan brings an irreverent charm to proceedings, offsetting the more intense and fierce demeanour of Hilmar's Hester. And bringing her own special kind of kick-arse is South Korean singer-songwriter-turned-actress Jihae, who plays the 'I-Will-Not-Be-F**ked-With' leader of the resistance, Anna Fang.

It's when Fang and her gang of outlaw aviators thunder out of the skies that the true heroes of this tale emerge; the Weta Digital visual effects gurus. The Mortal Engines of the book resident in the theatre of my mind is masterfully realised and rendered with an epic and authentic grandeur and energy to it and really must be savoured on the biggest of screens.

The story delivery itself was harder to embrace. The pace felt too rushed and too busy, with simply too much going on to fully engage with the main characters and their journey. And while I understand the necessary evil of early exposition - especially given the complexity of the narrative - it felt too laboured and heavy-handed.

While for me, Mortal Engines wasn't quite firing on all cylinders, there's no question it's a big screen ride worth taking, especially given the original source material.

Amidst a sea of blockbuster sequels and retreads, having a bold new adventure blasting onto the big screen is a refreshing tonic this festive season.

Three-and-a-half stars.

Mortal Engines opened in New Zealand cinemas on Thursday.