Clarissa "Clary" Fray (Lily Collins) goes out with her best friend, Simon (Robert Sheehan), to a club where she witnesses a murder, only to realize she's the only one that saw it happen. She continues to draw a strange symbol and has visions of goth kids. While not wholly original, I've always enjoyed the mythology of a world that exists within our own that only some have the ability to access or see. There's a lot you can do with that. After Clary's mother (Lena Headey) disappears, she learns that her mother was a "Shadowhunter" and that she must be, too. Joined by another Shadowhunter, Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), they attempt to find her mother and something called the Mortal Cup.
I was actually interested and invested at this point. The problem with The Mortal Instruments is that it continues to borrow, or outright steal, from every sci-fi or fantasy franchise you can think of. As if that wasn't enough, it layers countless love triangles that rival most soap operas. Were left with something that's a hot mess of many different tropes and cliches, and has nothing original to offer.
Oh, and I did I mention the dialog is cringe worthy? While there are a few funny lines, for every reasonably good one, there's ten horrible or awkward ones. They throw in some modern pop culture references though, so at least it feels like they are still living in our world. However, you'll see maddeningly inconsistent behavior from characters, even within the same scene. Early on, Clary is mad at Simon for not answering the phone when her mother called, but the whole reason why she called Simon was because Clary didn't answer the phone when was called first. Even the kids sitting next to me made a comment about that inconsistency. Nobody involved in the production noticed this huge lapse in logic? At one point Clary throws a knife at a werewolf just after it saved her, and it wasn't even the first time the werewolves intervened on their behalf. Later, there's a simple misunderstanding where Jace goes from trying to act cool and dropping one liners to running away like a brat. I have a hard time believing the guy is some kind of badass when he can't keep his emotions in check and gets upset at the slightest thing. Was this written by a completely irrational person?
At least City of Bones looks nice. There are some interesting character and set designs, with some decent special effects. In particular, there's a really cool effect with this demonic dog that would have fit right in with something like The Thing or Hellrasier, so I applaud the creativity there. However, making decent looking werewolves still seems to be an issue. They must have known this, as most of the time the werewolves are always just on the verge of turning, so they just have claws and cool eye contacts. Also, when not werewolves, they all look like they are part of a biker gang, like in True Blood. I guess that's better than a bunch of shirtless guys wearing denim shorts though. Speaking of attire, everyone is dressed like they work at Hot Topic. When Clary has to change clothes, even she remarks at how uncomfortable it is, and then later makes a point to remove her knee-high boots during a crucial situation.
The action is City of Bones features more poorly filmed action scenes, with all the quick cuts and close shots that we all hate. I'm not gonna come down on them too hard for this, as this has been plaguing most movies these days. I still don't understand why it's used though. Doesn't anyone care that you can't tell what's going on during climactic fight scenes? Why even bother putting it in the film if you can't enjoy watching it? In a weird turn of events there was a scene towards the end where Clary uses some rune to freeze a bunch of demons in place. However, instead of using this opportunity to kill the demons, they awkwardly sneak past them for no reason at all. What happens next? The demons recover and kill a bunch of them. What in the hell were they thinking?
Speaking of, there's a whole plot thread dedicated to saving Simon after he was kidnapped by vampires. The issue I had with this was why was Simon even with them in the first place? He had no powers or knowledge that made him an asset on their quest. Why would a group of experienced Shadowhunters allow him to even come along, let alone into a den of creatures where Simon would be a liability? He's just in the way. After this, they hint he was bitten by a vampire, but then never bring it up again. Clary sees the bite marks and doesn't even mention it to the other Shadowhunters as a concern. Oh, but they're setting that up for a sequel, fans will say. Awww...it's cute you think there's going to be a sequel.
Then there's all the bad melodrama with the love triangles. It's probably best to read this next part in the voice of a 14-year-old girl. Simon is Clary's best friend. He's clearly in love with her, but she just considers him a friend. Jace and Clary are into each other, which means Simon hates Jace. Another Shadowhunter, Alec (Kevin Zegers), is gay for Jace, but for some reason isn't allowed to admit it. Alec hates Clary because Jace likes her. Jace isn't gay though, so Alec has to know the love isn't mutual and therefore his hate of Clary is totally irrational. Clary totally calls Alec out on it later, too. Then, there's this gay warlock named Magnus (Godrey Gao) who's into Alec, so it's not like he doesn't have options. (14-year-old voice: off) Here's the kicker - SPOILER ALERT - it's revealed that Clary and Jace are brother and sister! This is well after they've shared a kiss and their attraction is mutual. What the hell? Oh, and the big bad guy they're worried about reveals himself to be Clary and Jace's father. Now we're ripping off Star Wars? Who thought this was a good idea? The bad guy's name is Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Yes, Valentine, a name that strikes fear into the hearts of all. Why not just call him Darth Valentine?
This is all pretty much the second act of the film, and when we finally get back to the main plot, you've almost forgotten what they're after or why. It's never even really clear what this Mortal Cup is needed for. Valentine wants Clary to drink from it to test it first, but never does. There's a reference to a master race, so I guess there's supposed to be some ethnic cleansing theme or something. The plot is really an afterthought to all the melodrama.
There also no real explanation of anyone's powers. They draw runes on themselves to give different abilities, and these just look like bad tattoos. No further details are given, so it ends up being a lazy way to allow characters to have whatever power is needed at a particular moment. At the end of the movie, Clary uses one to clean her apartment. I'll admit that's pretty convenient. Why didn't they just make up a rune to find Clary's mom and the Mortal Cup all in one shot? Drawing the runes appears to be a painful process, so was it supposed to be a weird reference to 'cutting'. It didn't help that one of the times we see Jace applying one was immediately after he ran off in one of his petulant huffs.
I'll say this though, at least The Mortal Instruments is still better than Twilight. Clary is a more realistic and relatable character than Bella. She isn't completely defined by two boys liking her for no reason and has a purpose and goal. I'm probably a little biased here in that I think Lily Collins is a much better actor and has much more charisma than Kristen Stewart. I also liked they cast Lena Headey as her mom. They actually look like they could be related.
Overall, I didn't even think City of Bones was poorly acted. I felt that the cast was trying, but what are actors supposed to do when the dialog and story is this bad? It bugs me when movies aimed at younger audiences are written like this. They deserve and appreciate intelligent dialog, too. Not everything written for teens has be filled with angst and melodrama. They even shoehorn a really awful CW-like soundtrack into it. Then, when you consider how obviously derivative and predictable it all is, I can't see why anyone finds it satisfying to watch. It's so predictable that without even reading a single page of any of the books, let me guess some stuff that happen in later installments. Feel free to confirm or correct me:
- It's eventually revealed that Jace and Clary aren't actually brother and sister.
- Even though Clary is the least experienced, we find that she's way more powerful than everyone else.
- Simon eventually does turn into a vampire. He probably saves the day at some point because of it.
- Simon also ends up with Isabelle (Jemima West). This is good for Simon though, cause Isabelle is hot and was kind of a badass.
- Magnus ends up with the Alec. That reminds of another thing. After Alec is injured in a fight, Magnus shows up out of nowhere to heal him. I don't recall anyone calling him. Why did he just show up? Was he so into Alec that he was keeping tabs on him?
- After Alec ends up with Magnus, Alec and Clary become friends.
1.5 (out of 5) Death Stars