THE Screened Review by
No amount of demons, werewolves, and Jonathan Rhys Myers can save this movie from being truly terrible. It is an unknowing pastiche of genre with no love for them. Thanks to a horrendus script Mortal Instruments: City of Bones kills the germ of a possible franchise with crossover appeal.
The hunt for the next Harry Potter or Twilight is once again in full swing. With Hunger Games half over this year all the studios smell blood in the water. The Percy Jackson franchise hasn’t had the expected effect by actually drawing an audience. Warner Bros. is already reading a replacement with an Artemis Fowl film. Sony is now up to bat via it’s production company Screen Gems. Bringing the urban fantasy young adult series The Mortal Instruments to the big screen.
The fact that Mortal Instruments: City of Bones started off as Harry Potter fan fiction is the least of this movies problems. With a porous script City of Bones comes off like it was made for it’s fans and no one else. Prior knowledge of the book will absolutely be necessary for this films plot (the sequence of events) to make sense much less any sort of greater story that is trying to be told. That along with basic filmic issues makes me long for the days of competency when Twilight was around.
Like every young adult/urban fantasy/paranormal teen romance story Clary Fray thinks she is just your normal vaguely 18 year old New York resident. She has got her bestie Simon whom she doesn't realize is into her. Likes to draw. And drink coffee at little shops like an adult. You know, the normal stuff. Then she starts drawing weird runes and suddenly her mother is kidnapped and she is being stalked by the millennial version of Sting. As it turns out Sting...I mean Jace Wayland is a Shadow Hunter. Which are nephilim, the offspring of Angels and Humanity. Because of her now missing mother, played by Lena Headey, Clary is also a nephilim and is dragged into a world of angels and demons as everyone around her vies for the Mortal Cup.
Calling this film Harry Potter fanfic is too easy. Yes, there are obvious parallels to be made. With characters like villain Valentine Morgenstern, a cooky headmaster named Hodge. Or the fact that the sets of the Institute (Hogwarts equivalent) look like they were lifted from old Harry Potter sets. Along with the implication that the Shadow Hunters are the equivalent of aurors . The films plot won a mechanical level bares a resemblance to The Sorcerers Stone. All of these inferences are there to be made but the lose sight of the greater picture.
Mortal Instruments is one big punch bowl of genres and franchises. Minus any sort of self awareness or attempt to transform it’s inhabitants into it’s own. Instead everything is imbued with the base line of mythic value. All the stories you heard as a child were true is an oft repeated line justifying demons, werewolves, and other things that go bump in the night. The more apt comparison for this film would be that it’s a riff on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV series not film) by way of Hellboy. That doesn't sound too bad. Only, unlike the clear reference points, Mortal Instruments has little self awareness on the page for what it is. This movie is a clear play to get at the Twilight and Harry Potter crowd, just like every Young Adult book turned film franchise. The sad thing is you can see the germ of an idea that would get a Sony executive via their Screen Gems productions company to sign off on it. It has all the poorly done romance crap for the women and their mothers and badass kicking characters killing demons for the guys. None of which really matter since it can’t decide if it wants to be a genre romp or melodramatic teen romance. None of these possibilities are served in the slightest, leaving a film that has plucked bits from other genres and tried to pass itself off as unique. In actuality it is the worst pastiche imaginable.
Thanks to director Harald Zwart cinematographer and Geir Hartly Andreassen The Mortal Instruments isn’t completely unaware of itself. The pair hit you over the head with obvious moments that could be read as romantic or heartfelt in some way. Just hanging the camera there as perspective couple X get all cozy with one another. These moments seem setup with the knowledge that they are destined to be immortalized in a poorly edited, sepia toned, shipping music videos for the series.
This movie really really wants to capture some of the swooning masses that madeTwilight into a major hit. With moments that clearly set up a Team Jace and Team Simon love triangle to run throughout the series. Even an riff on revelations found inReturn of the Jedi are thrown aside seconds later. In its haste to meet fan expectations it forgot to actually make non book readers inclined to join the shipping war. I hated the Team Jacob and Edward crap, but at least Stephenie Meyer gave readers a reason to get involved. Romeo and Juliet’s romance makes more sense than how these people just decided to suddenly shout their love for one another to the heavens.
All of this is a symptom of Mortal Instruments greatest failing. Writer Jessica Paquette wrote the entire cast as nothing but stock characters! Stock characters have their rolls, which are to the side. Not at the center of your cast. Cary is nothing more than cheap female lead with no agency or knowledge of what goes on, she walks through this movie with barely any characterization. The arc she goes on works mainly because Lily Collins performance not because of what happens on screen. The character of Jace is written slightly aware of his role as the “bad boy sex object”, but that awareness does not make it any less cliche. None of these characters have dimensions to them.
To criticize the acting would be unjust. The script did not give any of them a thing to work with and they aren’t that bad. It’s about what you would expect from a moderately budgeted first entry in a young adult book franchise. Jamie Campbell Bower does stand out for acting like the millennial equivalent to Sting. Everyone else is serviceable with the recognizable actors getting short shrift.
Poor characterization is surprising given the amount of exposition that is laid out over the 130 minutes. Good exposition that doesn't just stand out as EXPOSITION is a hard thing to do. Paquette tries to get around this by having characters just randomly expose about one another out of nowhere. Simon and Isabelle are talking about medicine and she just blurts out about how Jace has a major case of the angst because he saw his family murdered. Out of left field much. Worse there is exposition for things that are not necessary for the film to function. Which makes it not function in the end. The plotting in this film is just that plotting: a series of events some of which might have a logical flow. Director Harald Zwart takes a show instead of tell approach in some of these cases but when you are dealing with a series that is supposed to have a deep mythology showing things with no explanation just left me befuddled at this choice. Stuff just happens and the characters aren’t smart enough to realize what is going on. It isn’t like Clary and Simon aren’t the equivalent of Neo inThe Matrix, in much need of a big o’ll training session to catch them up.
For anyone who is taken to this film the action sequences aren’t terrible. Passable is a good adjective. Which means they were my favorite part of the movie.
The one good thing Mortal Insturments appears to have done is include a fair amount of gay/bisexual characters in there. From the queer warlock Bane to Alec who’s got a murderous love for Jace. It’s a nice change of pace from the pretty white faces that dominate the scene.
I went in not expecting for me to enjoy this movie. I would however at least appreciate and understand it on an academic or mechanical level. What I got was the worst pastiche of genre ever. Maybe the books are better? This movie clearly is not.