I imagine most who weren’t fans, were excited when the Twilight series had come to a close; I know I was. However, most don’t understand that studios will continue to drive the young-adult vehicle into the ground in hopes of duplicating the magic of the past. Ever since Harry Potter we have seen it happen time and again for over 10 years. So you can imagine my neglect walking into the tediously titled The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. Nothing from the marketing made it look promising, coming off exactly the way it wanted, to reel in the demographic it was targeting. It’s not really a surprise at this point.
Fortunately, this film has much more to it than previous attempts at young-adult adaptations. There are moments that shined through, especially when it comes to the fantasy elements, as opposed to the way Twilight handled the very same folklore. It was a step forward to some enjoyment on certain levels that surprised me while watching this. Unfortunately, this film travels way too close to the tropes we have seen not just in the past five years, but in over 30 years. When there aren’t moments to be relished, in some respects, we are forced to be heavy-handed another love triangle that we never care an ounce about. Walking out, even fans of the books were jokingly laughing about how inferior some of the dialogue was handled.
You have Clary (Lily Collins) who has just turned fifteen-years-old and is going out to celebrate her birthday with her nerdy best friend, Simon (Robert Sheehan). They happen across a night club, in which they get in by accident, and inside Clary witnesses a murder. No one else “human” can see it, just her, leading to an ominous Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) to realize she isn’t who she seems to be. He begins following her in as creepy of a way as Edward watching Bella sleep, until she finally approaches him in need of answers. Clary’s mother (Lena Headey) is soon kidnapped bringing thrust a fantasy tale of a young girl finding out she has blood of a shadow hunter and must come to terms with her powers whilst finding and saving her mother.
After one hell of an action scene involving a demon dog that actually sort of had me involved, the film comes to a speeding halt. You have Clary trying to survive as demons are chasing her, she is brought to this Hogwarts-type place where shadow hunters live, and you are force-fed both exposition that either doesn’t make sense or is just dumb in the first place, along with romantic elements that are so terrible I would have rather watched Days of Our Lives. Every time we have to sit through three or four characters arguing about who loves who, the film doesn’t seem to move; and at a 130 minute run time, you can imagine a lot of frustration coming from not only me, but the audience.
Aside from the fist-clenching romanticisms, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones decides to use every cliché we have seen in film history. You have the obvious comparisons to Twilight, but there is also a lot of Harry Potter and Buffy in here, and even Star Wars. It takes these tropes and thinking it’s clever, uses them to get a reaction out of the audience especially with a third act twist, but is never able to mesh it all together in a way that feels genuine. Every twist and turn can be seen from the beginning of the film and it never is able to shake that. Sure, for a teenage girl this might be new to them, if they have the most limited amount of pop culture referencing than anyone else on the planet (arguably I think the author of the books might fall into that category), but even then this isn’t good – it’s a mess. I could understand if these copied moments were inspirations, but they’re not, it’s quite obvious that there wasn’t creativity coming in.
There are even actors we know who are good that can’t even chew up enough scenery in here. First, I like Lily Collins a lot, she was the best thing about Mirror Mirror and she does fine here except with the dialogue she is given. Here friend played by Robert Sheehan does alright as well, giving off quippy one-liners here and there that try to bring something to the stale writing. Lena Headey is alright with the scenes she is in, but she’s barely in the film. Then, everyone else is either bad, or just there. Jamie Campbell Bower is annoying beyond compare and I’m not convinced he is a good actor even with everything he is handed. His friends, both played Kevin Zegers and Jemima West, don’t bring anything but more convoluted love triangles, or quadrangles at this point. Too many characters and not enough good moments with them really drag this film down. Jared Harris as the almost Dumbledore-like figure is fine, but isn’t given anything to do. And when Jonathan Rhys Meyers shows up, he seems to be the one trying his hardest, but even he can’t save this.
The best moments of this movie are the fight sequences. There are a lot of well-choreographed action set-pieces that have some fun to them. Vampires show up and they are actually the vampires we remember, and the same goes for the werewolves. Underworld looked to have a lot of influence in the fight scenes, and they work to the film’s advantage. The problem is the inconsistency of the rules. These demon hunters can use swords and swipe through these things like butter, but when it comes to the biggest action sequence in the entire film, they all forget how to fight. Clary uses this spell to slow these creatures down as they are jumping toward her and her friends, but instead of them slicing them up, they slowly weave through them to escape. There are moments that just don’t make sense, but when the film seems to understand what it needs and goes for the throat, there are is enjoyment to be had.
As much as The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones doesn’t reach to the potential it seems to be grasping for in the first place, it isn’t what it could have been – it isn’t as bad as Twilight. If that is a necessary, positive thing to say about this film, then there it is. There is a sequel already slated for next year, so I guess it would be best if we all just got used to this; I’m afraid it will never end. A sequel is kind of inevitable as the film ends with three different cliffhangers that made me roll my eyes. One of those cliffhangers happened in the middle of the film, I thought they would have had some sort of payoff, but there wasn’t. Let’s just say it leads into a sort of Jacob Twilight ordeal. My excitement cannot be contained.
The Good: the special effects, certain fight sequences had some texture, and arguably some of the cast.
The Bad: rules are unspecified when it comes to this world, too long of a run time, dialogue, and some of the cast.
The Ugly: the romanticisms that are force-fed to the audience, obvious copied plot-points from other films, and dumbfoundedness.