Movie Review: The Mortal Instruments (City of Bones)

I saw this movie because I needed something to do today and because the trailer didn’t look awful and even looked a bit enjoyable. Coming out of the movie I’ll say this: it wasn’t awful. It wasn’t great, but it was competent and certainly could have been worse.

Although I can’t say for certain how faithful (or not) this adaption is, I can say that if this movie is closely related at all that this book is the kind of book that gives Young Adult novels a bit of a bad name. There is nothing original here. There is magic (and a rip-off of Hogwarts), there are demons, there are vampires and there are werewolves. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for it to be compelling you need almost perfect execution. Unfortunately, this film is lacking that in several ways:

First and foremost, there is a severe lack of character development. At the end of the film Clary (Cassandra Clarie, why not just have called your protagonist Claire and been done with it?!) states to the bad guy that he doesn’t know her. Problem is, we don’t really know her either. The movie never really takes time to establish any kind of character for her. The most we get is that she thinks her mom is paranoid/stifling and that she may be a bit of a cock-tease because she’s leading on the Token Mundane. She “loves him like a brother” but it’s obvious to everyone else that his love is not platonic. That’s it.  Jase falls in love with her…because? Simon fell in love with her…because? The rest of the characters are pretty much equally one dimensional.

Secondly, the plot thrives on conveniences and characters being stupid. Let’s bring the Mundane along on a trip he has no reason to be on! Oh look! He’s been kidnapped. I never would have seen that one coming! At one point it’s made very clear that the music of Bach somehow drives demon’s batty (Bach was  Shadow Hunter…just go with it). Jase starts to play some notes and the demon gets incredibly twitchy yet Clary goes ahead to retrieve the Plot Device and could have only done so by blatantly ignoring what’s going on around her. This is also after said character goes “no weapons inside!” Even without the Bach you knew how this scene would end.

Finally, there are a number of twists big and small that you can spot, some sooner than others, but you predict it all. Unless of course, it’s a plot element that is built up and then completely ignored the rest of the film, presumably to save it for the sequel when no one will have remembered this moment.

All that combined with cheesy dialogue and incredibly awkward intrusion of Teenage Kiss Music (you know, think of any episode of the Vampire Diaries when Elena shares a kiss with someone) when non-instrumental music hasn’t been used anywhere else in the score and the best you can say for the movie is that it’s competent.

On a technical level there isn’t much to complain about: the film looks and sounds great There’s a bit of sketchy CGI but nothing too distracting. As far as acting goes, it’s not bad. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is by far the best of the lot, and it’s arguable that he’s wasted here on material that just isn’t very good. Godfrey Gao provides a nice bit of eye-candy in a role that has some bit of plot significance, but about as much screen time as an extended cameo. The rest just do what they can with the material they were given. I didn’t notice any real chemistry between Lily Collins (Clary) and Jamie Bower (Jase) but that’s probably as much due to the script as anything.

Younger teens will enjoy the film and fans of the book series may enjoy the film (again, I can’t speak to how faithful the movie is; if it is as loose an adaptation as Beautiful Creatures was though, I could see there being rage from the fans) but it’s really no mystery why this film didn’t do better at the box office: it didn’t really <i>deserve</i> to.

Hollywood desperately wants to recapture the box office magic of Harry Potter and Twilight and The Hunger Games but what they keep forgetting is that for one reason or another all those films had crossover appeal (Divergent should as well, but I still think it could go either way at this point) and this book doesn’t. The sequel was supposedly optioned as well, but much like Beautiful Creatures, I wouldn’t put too much faith in it actually hitting theaters unless it does incredibly well overseas.

One final note: I found this film surprising violent; like in the Dark Knight kind of way where had there been a bit more actual blood it’d have easily been an R rating. Seriously, some of the fights here (especially one early scene where a cast iron skillet is used) could have been easily fatal. People thinking of taking younger kids might want to hold off.

Verdict: Bargain Matinee at best if you set your expectations properly. That said, if you had other movies you wanted to see (new or old) I’d still probably go see one of them first instead.

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