Title: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Directed By: Harald Zwart
Starring: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan, Kevin Zegers, Lena Headey, Kevin Durand, Aidan Turner, Jemima West, Godfrey Gao, CCH Pounder, Jared Harris, Jonathan Rhys Meyers
“The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” might reduce plans for the sequel to ashes.
Clary (Lily Collins) is your average girl, living in New York City, hanging out with her best friend, Simon (Robert Sheehan). While at a club, Clary catches a glimpse of a ruthless murder. Trouble is, nobody else sees it. When she’s approached by the murderer the very next day, she knows something’s up and, sure enough, right in the middle of their conversation, she gets a frantic phone call from her mother (Lena Headey) just before she’s taken.
Turns out, Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), is actually a Shadowhunter, a human born with angelic blood tasked with dispatching demons, and that is exactly what he was doing at the club. But no one was supposed to be able to see him – unless they had Shadowhunter blood. If Clary’s going to get her mother back, she’s got no choice, but to team up with Jace, trace her newfound Shadowhunter roots, and figure why and where her mother has been taken.
The book upon which the film is based is not particularly well written, but does exhibit a cinematic quality. There’s an overabundance of solid material, so it should have been rather simple to pare it down and restructure the text to turn it into a riveting, original supernatural adventure, but instead, the movie plays just like the book. It’s poorly paced, the narrative is inadequately layered, it drowns the viewer in nonsensical exposition and, over all, winds up feeling like a silly excuse to make yet another movie about pretty people, werewolves, vampires, and teenage murderers.
Even for someone who’s read the book, it’s hard to take in all the details and put the pieces together. On top of learning all the basics of being a Shadowhunter, there are also the Accords and the Clave, two things that are mentioned quite a few times, but never explained. If you care, the Clave is the governing body of the Shadow World and the rules of the Accords keep the peace between Downworlders and members of the Clave. But, that adds another unexplained element to the equation – Downworlders. “The Mortal Instruments” shows off warlocks, vampires, and werewolves and while Shadowhunters must keep them in line, they’re not demons. They’re Downworlders. Yet another distinction that should have been made more clearly.
But this is supernatural, teen nonsense we’re talking about here. You can make almost anything fly if you’ve got engaging characters with compelling arcs, and that’s where “The Mortal Instruments” does find a degree of success. Collins doesn’t deliver a bad performance, but she isn’t capable of making Clary an exceptional protagonist and that’s a major problem because her co-stars are so colorful. Minus her ability to brand herself and battle demons, Collins’ Clary is really average and that makes her a dull lead.
Bower’s Jace, on the other hand, is oozing with charm, sass, and even winds up offering a good deal of comedic relief. Bower knows when and how to deliver a strong quip, but what proves he’s capable of more than most is his ability to convey what his character is thinking and feeling without ever saying it. There’s also Simon who could easily have come across as your quintessential geek or an annoying wannabe boyfriend, but Sheehan successfully combines a number of qualities to make him feel like a real person rather than a stereotype. He’s soft, but he’s far from a pushover. Simon steps up when the circumstances call for it and it’s exciting watching him pick and choose his battles.
Then there are Jace’s Shadowhunter cohorts, the brother and sister duo, Alec and Isabelle (Kevin Zegers and Jemima West). Alec’s romantic woes and attitude towards Clary are underdeveloped and Isabelle isn’t given a chance to establish a convincing connection to anyone on the roster, but they’re still fun to watch. As Clary becomes further entrenched in the Shadowhunter world, it’s more appealing to see how Alec and Isabelle treat her and adjust than it is to experience Clary’s change. It shouldn’t be that way, but one packs much more zest than the other.
As for the adult cast members, almost everyone is forgettable. Jared Harris doesn’t get nearly enough screen time to justify Hodge as a trusted and loved guardian, Headey sleeps through 75% of the film, that big silver blob in Aidan Turner’s hair is too distracting to take his character, Luke, seriously, and, as nice as he is to look at, Godfrey Gao is just not a particularly good actor. However, Jonathan Rhys Meyers actually manages to raise a significant amount of intrigue surrounding his character, Valentine, despite the fact that he’s primarily relegated to the third act of the film. He’s one of few who truly loses himself in his role.
On the visual front, “The Mortal Instruments” is all over the place. One minute we’ll get stellar fight sequences like when Clary’s apartment is invaded, but the next, we’ll get scuffles that seem to be missing key shots. For example, during the fight in Luke’s basement, at one point, Robert Maillet’s character is seen standing, moving away from the action, but the next, he’s buried under a fallen piece of furniture. There are also a slew of instances where the blocking is way off. Whereas normal people would be running away or perhaps join in to help a friend fight, there’s a number of moments when characters are literally just standing there in the background, watching their allies risk their lives.
As nonsensical as the large majority of “The Mortal Instruments” is, it’s still just entertaining enough to get you to the credits and leave you in a relatively good mood. However, even though the experience is harmless, it’s still a major disappointment. Zwart shows signs of having a firm grasp on the material, certain cast members are particularly electrifying, and there’s some stellar production design work here. The script, however, is garbage. It’s a wonder how Zwart and co. made the material passable at all.