Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Action,Adventure,Sci-Fi Movie Review of ‘The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones’ (2013)

Movie Review of ‘The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones’ (2013)

2013’s The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is another attempt to kick-start a cinematic franchise of young adult novel adaptations, emerging in the shadow of TwilightHarry Potter and The Hunger Games. It’s actually the third movie of 2013 to attempt to spark such a franchise, after the failure of both The Host and Beautiful Creatures. Even though The Mortal Instruments seems like a blatant Twilight rip-off due to its focus on young love within a story involving werewolves and vampires, it’s actually more tolerable than this reviewer had anticipated; a well-made fantasy action-adventure that’s suitably entertaining, even for casual viewers without any knowledge of the novel series on which it’s based. It’s more or less what Twilight could have been like if it wasn’t so morose and dull.

A typical teenager living in New York City, Clary (Lily Collins) begins seeing and subconsciously drawing a strange symbol, which alarms her single mother, Jocelyn (Lena Headey). While out with her best pal Simon (Robert Sheehan), Clary is approached by the mysterious Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), a half-human/half-angel warrior known as a “Shadowhunter” who slaughters demons that have entered the Earthly realm. With Jocelyn abducted, Jace informs Clary that she’s not a normal girl, and her mother possesses powers that she has passed on. Wanting to rescue her mother, Clary travels to a secret hideout called The Institute, accompanied by Jace and Simon. Powerful former Shadowhunter Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is out to retrieve a mortal instrument known as the Mortal Cup, which he seeks to use for his own devious purposes. Problem is, the cup is hidden and only Clary’s mother knows where it is, sparking a race against time to retrieve the cup before it falls into Valentine’s hands.

Adapted from the popular novel series by Cassandra Clare, City of Bones was saddled with a lot of mythology to deal with and exposition to convey, necessitating a lot of chatter before the battles can kick in. Unfortunately, Jessica Postigo’s screenplay is not exactly light on its feet, leading to pacing issues as the film gets bogged down in overly verbose blocks of dialogue. And even with all the endless talking, City of Bones leaves a number of questions unanswered, particularly about the specifics of the evil machinations at play and the exact significance of the Mortal Cup. As a result, the narrative does feel a little disjointed. The enterprise actually feels like an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but that show benefitted from the witty writing of Joss Whedon. Here, the dialogue is pretty standard-order.

Regardless of its script and pacing problems, City of Bones is a skilfully-assembled motion picture, with director Harald Zwart making the most of the $60 million budget at his disposal. The mythological beasts in this story actually have bite, hence the werewolves, vampires and demons are given free reign to, well, be werewolves, vampires and demons. Zwart delivers in a big way when the action arrives, impressively showcasing the badass abilities of the various combatants, executed with solid digital effects. Unfortunately, the romantic elements of the story are fairly unsuccessful. Simon is hopelessly in love with Clary but she’s ignorant to his feelings, and the melodrama stemming from this situation is on the same level as a television soap opera. Romance is essential for the movie’s target demographic, but it needed a defter, more sophisticated touch. Here, the material is too corny. With that said, though, it’s commendable that City of Bones never gets too bogged down in the romantic stuff, a trap that Twilight fell into. The flick is more concerned with the bigger picture, which is why it works for the most part.

Whereas Twilight was positively suffocated by bad acting, City of Bones features a fine ensemble of actors who commit to the material and deliver believable performances. Collins is a confessed fan of the source material who passionately sought the role of Clary upon learning of the planned film adaptation. Thank goodness she got the part, as Collins is a beautiful presence who comes off as a credible young lady and embodies the role’s intelligence and bravery. She even looks like a teenager, despite being in her twenties. Meanwhile, Jamie Campbell Bower is decent as Jace, if not exactly remarkable, and Robert Sheehan is pretty good in the role of Simon. Luckily, the adult cast also provide solid support. Game of Thrones star Lena Headey is in fine form as Jocelyn, while Jared Harris is suitably strange and charming as Hodge. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is good as well, sinking his teeth into this villainous role.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is not overly memorable or brilliant, but it’s a smoother ride than any of the Twilight films, providing enough material to keep girls interested and prevent the male demographic from falling asleep. It’s hardly required viewing, but it is watchable and often enjoyable, which is a ringing endorsement coming from a reviewer who normally hates this type of dreck. The film’s failure at the box office is disappointing, as further instalments would be an enticing prospect. After all, the groundwork has been laid now, and sequels can have more fun with this cinematic universe. City of Bones has its flaws, but it’s kept afloat thanks to strong performances, a decent story, and the fact that it doesn’t treat its audience as complete morons.

6.1/10

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