The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones Review
With a longwinded title that’s a touch difficult to remember without having to Google it every so often, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is the latest film adaptation based upon a series of successful novels which you probably haven’t heard of unless you’re a teenage girl.
Taking place in reliable ol’ New York City, the story follows teenager Clary Fray (Lily Collins), who has started to repeatedly sketch an unusual marking around her home, much to the concern of her mother (Lena Headey) and her mother’s friend Luke (Aidan Turner), who realize that the moment has finally come for them to tell the girl what the hell is going on...which they don’t anyway.
It’s not until one night, when Clary and her best friend Simon (Robert Sheehan) visit a nightclub, that they’re led inside by the calling of this sign, only for Clary to soon witness the murder of a man at the hands of some Goth types, led by Jace Wayland (Jamie Campbell Bower). It turns out that Jace is a Shadow Hunter: slayers of demons who are of a different breed than of that of regular humans, who they simply refer to as “Mundanes”. Unbeknownst to Clary until now, so was her mother, Jocelyn. It’s during this night that Jocelyn is kidnapped by some unsavoury types, but not before placing herself into a coma in order to protect the legacy that has now been passed onto her daughter. For it appears that Clary has the ability to read sacred runes and knows the whereabouts of the coveted Mortal Cup, which former Shadow Hunter Valentine Morgenstern (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) wants for himself in order to control demons and take over the world. Of course.
Shot on a modest budget of $60 million, City of Instruments: Mortal Bones is a nice enough looking picture, given that much of the action takes place in the New York underbelly, with grand mansions and dark corridors aplenty. It paints a suitably foreboding aesthetic for our brooding heroes and villains to wage war in, trying its utmost to provide a host of unsettling gothic imagery, which sees it verging on the cusp of a 15 cert. As a 12A it’s surprisingly violent, more so than the often bloodless Twilight saga and feeling closer to The Hunger Games, which was similarly pitched toward a teen audience. The occasional spattering of blood, sewn up faces of the silent brothers, and the notable transformation of some kind of Hell-Hound that looks like it came from the set of Resident Evil (sadly, the accompanying electronic dance music also seems to come from the Paul W.S. Anderson school of film making), ensures that there’s plenty for all ages to enjoy, if only for parents to bear a little caution.
The problem then? Well, it’s not difficult these days to make a shiny, effects-laden spectacle; it’s an aspect that audiences have taken for granted for years, yet studios continually fail to realize that people will get bored if there isn’t a solid script behind the visuals. Ignoring the “less is more” adage in favour of plundering major plot elements from just about every beloved Hollywood franchise from Star Wars to Harry Potter, creator Cassandra Clare has constructed a mish-mash of genre ideas without questioning whether or not they are of any integral importance: the overused Vampire vs. Werewolves theme serves as a perfect example, being referenced so sparsely that the film - primarily centred on demons wanting to do bad stuff - wouldn’t miss it if it were altogether excised. Everything has been thrown into the mixing pot here and comes across as incidental, with added wizardry and Stargates to further convolute a narrative that really shouldn’t be this incoherent.
Matters are compounded with a roster of rudimentary characters who find themselves in a bit of a Catch-22 situation, neither having essential screen time afforded to them within an almost ridiculous two and half hour run time, or having engaging enough personalities to warrant it in the first place. Character arcs are left hanging as people turn up and disappear without warning during crucial moments of the story: the closet homosexual who wears sleeveless PVC jackets; the other Shadow Hunter who collects terrible paintings; Simon, who undergoes a life-changing transformation - all giving way to a laboured third act that simply doesn’t want to reach a conclusion. Presumably much of this will be explored in the sequel, but that doesn’t really excuse the poor execution for what is ultimately an unrestrained first outing in the series from director Harald Zwart.
It’s a shame, then, with all I’ve mentioned above, that The City of Mortals doesn’t aim to be more of a parody in the way that Warm Bodies was regarded toward Twilight, because there are brief moments where its tongue seems firmly planted in its cheek; of all the cast members Jamie Campbell Bower seems to realize how utterly absurd it all seems, delivering the best quips to help overcome some of the more stereotyped portrayals and cheesier romantic elements, which are carried out with all the subtlety of a hammer to the face. And how can I not mention the revelation that Johann Sebastian Bach was himself a Shadow Hunter, who inserted anti-demon spells or something into his compositions. Brilliant! Overall the performances are acceptable, with the actors seeming to enjoy themselves, even if the likes of Jared Harris and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are phoning it in at this point.
Not quite a totally unmitigated disaster, The Mortal Bones in the City of Instruments is handsome enough and has its moments of entertainment when not bogged down by a tangled script. Going some way toward satisfying the rabid Vampire vs. Werewolf crowd out there and perhaps served best as a drinking game, it’s also a solid example of how damn lazy and creatively bankrupt the Hollywood system has become. Mundane indeed.