Film Review – The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
In the quest for the latest, greatest female-driven-based-on-a-young-adult-novel franchise, Cassandra Clare’s book City of Bones, the first in her Mortal Instruments series, takes its turn in the theaters. (Thus the name of the movie, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.) After the success of Twilight and The Hunger Games—and factoring in the relative failure of films like Beautiful Creatures and The Host—movie makers are finally coming to the conclusion that teenage boys might not be the only ones driving ticket sales at the box office. More content is being directed towards women and girls, and that’s a good thing. Fangirls deserve a little love, too. (Not to mention that we have money and would like to spend it on the things we dig.)
Directed by Harald Zwart and written by Jessica Postigo, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones tells the story of Clary (Lily Collins), who seems like an average teen. When she witnesses a murder which no one else can see and finds herself drawing the same arcane symbol over and over again, she realizes that something weird is going down in New York. Her mother, Jocelyn (Lena Headey), also notices something is up, but gets distracted when two men break into their apartment looking for “The Cup.” They kidnap her and Clary is left to discover her destiny with her best friend Simon (Robert Sheehan) and mysterious hot guy Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower). Turns out Jace is a Shadowhunter, part of a mysterious group of warriors who hunt and kill demons. They also are looking for the cup, since the Shadowhunters have become few in number, and said cup can be used to create new recruits. Clary’s journey to find her mother and the cup take her to some unexpected places, where she learns about her relationship to the Shadowhunters, as well as her place in the world.
I entered this screening with a positive mindset and a willingness to be entertained. I like Young Adult books and movies and really enjoyed Twilight (for reals) and The Hunger Games, and was willing to let this movie be awesome. It is awesome, but maybe not in the way intended by the filmmakers. I’m not saying that it is so bad it’s good, but I will say that it might only be good for a certain audience. It’s stylish, with a fast-paced story and a bunch of really attractive people wearing cool clothes and fighting demons. At no point did I get bored during the 130-minute running time, and I am a person who feels that 90 minutes is just about long enough for any story. Unfortunately, the plot is just one cliché after another. I felt I knew where things were going just by virtue of having seen a movie before.
I am a long-time science fiction and fantasy fan, and the reader/viewer always has to make a leap of faith when jumping into a new world. I found it hard to enter this universe and accept its premise because it was handled pretty poorly, with exposition taking the place of storytelling. A lot of money was spent here to make it look good, and that was what eventually helped me get into things. But an expensive set should not take the place of a good script. Doctor Who has always been a cheap-looking show to me, but—until recently—I’ve always been able to enjoy it based on the quality of the writing.
The main problem here, though, is the characters and the required love triangle. None of the people in this movie have more than the barest outline of personality: there is a plucky girl, a brooding warrior, a protective mother, and a love-struck best friend. That is about all the personality given to anyone. Which, in a plot-driven film, can be okay if the story is handled well. Here we have some cool-looking people fighting some cool-looking demons for stakes that we really don’t care about. And if this were all the film was, I guess that would not be too bad, but then they had to add in the romance. Because the characters have no personality and therefore no reason to fall in love, the filmmakers rely on a very strict, very obvious formula to make things happen. I am in no way kidding or exaggerating when I tell you that every time there was a romantic scene on screen, the audience laughed out loud. Every time. Because it was just all so silly.
But, if I were a girl aged 12 – 16, I might really enjoy this. It’s fun to look at, and if I was a Mortal Instruments fan, I might have a good time. (I have not read the books, so I am unsure how fans are going to accept the adaptation.) The female characters get to kick some ass and wear thigh-high boots; who doesn’t want to do that? It’s completely ridiculous, but I’ve seen way worse movies made with much less honorable intentions. It’s bad, but sometimes it is so bad, it’s amazing.