Released: August 21, 2013. Directed by: Harald Zwart. Starring: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan. Runtime: 130 min.
“The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” is a bad, silly and largely unoriginal young adult adaptation. It takes components from many other young adult novels – classic love triangle, vampires, a bunch of mythical creatures, and the humans are called mundanes, a spin on muggles it seems – and mixes it into one. Authour Cassandra Clare, originally known for penning Harry Potter fan fiction (which caused a mighty roar of plagiarism), proves that really anyone can write a young adult novel. There’s one South Korean thriller called “Intruders” that includes a character who essentially says that, if a novel is published, it’s going to be read – even if it’s a bad book. Clare’s novel is half-decent, but this really doesn’t work on-screen. It’s as if the big screen amplifies some of its stupidity.
When her mother disappears, Clary Fray learns that she descends from a line of warriors – called Shadowhunters, who are half humans, half angels and apparently all British – who protect our world from demons. She joins forces with others like her and heads into a dangerous alternate New York called Downworld.
This is one of those forgettable movies where the main character learns their life hasn’t been entirely truthful, and then gets hit with a lot of information at once. Some of this information is told to her by an arrogant Shadowhunter named Jace Wayland (Jamie Campbell Bower), who she is first afraid of and then (not so gradually) takes a liking to him. Cue the love triangle with Jace and Simon (Robert Sheehan). Further information about this new world is revealed to her by the leader of the Institute, Hodge (Jared Harris), making this another young adult novel where an adult gets the best monologue. By the way, the Institute is a lovely building protected by a glamour that just makes it look like a dump to mundanes. Other characters living in the Institute are Alec Lightwood (Kevin Zegers), a bitter and hateful protagonist, and his sister Isabelle (Jemima West). This film is also a good vs. evil tale where the evil person is Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a power hungry idiot, who, if he gets all of the mortal instruments, could summon demons and rule the world.
“Next time, I want a buzz cut.”
One can tell who the villains are because they have really bad haircuts (with the exception of Robert Maillet’s character). Kevin Durand looks like Friar Tuck in this movie, and his character is way dumb. In a scene involving him that makes this film feel as silly as a parody, is when he randomly humps a character’s leg while interrogating him. I shit you not, this happens in the movie. There’s some laughably bad CGI, shown in a demon octopus thing, and a few vampires. The good CGI is found in the Silent Brothers, who look nightmarish and cool. I think the only half-decent innovation made by screenwriter Jessica Postigo is that Mama Fray (Lena Headey, who, by the way is on-screen only a bit more than Schwarzenegger’s wife in “Batman & Robin”) drinks a coma potion before being abducted, and I don’t remember that happening in the novel. So she makes maybe one decent innovation of her own, but the bad innovations are just horribly bad. She introduces this cringe-worthy concept that classical music is kryptonite for demons, because Johann Sebastian Bach was a shadowhunter… Uh? Ludicrous is the another good word to describe that.
The writing is really bad because it’s often so cheesy. One of the cheesiest moments is during a kissing scene when sprinklers go off, while a Selena Gomez pop song plays over the soundtrack… Kill me. (Another strange score choice is during a fight scene where there is pop music that sounds more like disco music.) You know, on paper, this universe is pretty cool – but this sucks on-screen. The writing has ideas that are inconsistent, and the movie is way too long and uninteresting. Lily Collins helps bring people some enjoyment because she’s really quite decent as her character, and she’s attractive to boot. More on the writing before I move on; Jessica Postigo isn’t completely to blame for most aspects of the writing, because she it’s an adapted screenplay, novelist Cassandra Clare writes in one twist that is truly strange and utterly stupid, especially how it’s handled on screen.
The writing isn’t the only thing that makes this bad, the casting director Stephanie Corsalini only gets the casting right for a few characters. Lily Collins fits the description of Clary and is a good lead, and it helps that she’s very attractive; Kevin Zegers, Jared Harris and Robert Sheehan are good as their respective characters. They’re really the only good actors in this film; Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Valentine is hard to take seriously because he chews the crap out of the scenery.
Campbell Bower isn’t strong as his character, because he’s bland, can’t land a joke, and his seriousness makes his arrogant character downright boring. Alex Pettyfer would be a much better Jace. Matthew Davis (TV’s “The Vampire Diaries”) or Mark Pellegrino might make a better Luke, too. But the worst casting is Godfrey Gao as Magnus Bane, because he is a god-awful actor who should stick to modelling, and if memory serves me well, Bane is described as muscular in the books. Or maybe there’s a perception of him being muscular because of Bane in Batman. All I know for sure, this skinny Asian dude sucks as him. Anyway, the movie just sucks altogether, from the bad writing to the poor casting, and the boring plotting. The tonal choices also don’t make much sense, either; sometimes it takes itself too seriously, and sometimes it embraces campiness too much. Pick one, please. The only redeeming qualities are a few okay fight scenes and Collins’ attractiveness.