Movie Review: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

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A young woman is drawn into a supernatural world where she realises she has a special destiny that has the potential to change the battle between good and evil.

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Harald Zwart, 2013

If that plot summary sounds familiar and derivative, that’s because that’s exactly what this movie is. To be more specific about the plot, such as it is, Lily Collins’ teen beat poetry fan Clary (no, really) lives with her British mom Lena Headey in the British-est New York that has ever existed. She and her best friend Simon (Robert Sheehan, inexplicably American) are out for her birthday when Weird Things start happening, like her witnessing a murder she doesn’t report, probably because it’s committed by dreamy, broody Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower). She draws a symbol a bunch of times and has a fight with her mother before running into dreamy, broody Jace again and demanding to know what’s going on, causing the first of many exposition scenes and ignoring phone calls from her mother who’s being attacked by an inexplicably British Kevin Durand. It turns out Clary and her mother are Shadowhunters, mortal descendants of angels who fight demons and have a truce with vampires and werewolves and wizards and stuff…so, of course, they fight vampires and there’s a hot werewolf guy who’s sort of like Clary’s uncle. Dreamy, broody Jace takes Clary to meet his fellow Shadowfriends, including a tough chick, a gay guy, and their morally ambiguous leader. Then things get more convoluted and less interesting as the story progresses, ultimately leading to a fight between Clary and her new shadowwhatsit friends and mysterious, fallen shadowguy Valentine (tightly leatherbound Jonathan Rhys Meyers). As she fights various underworld threats, she starts to discover that her own past might be the greatest threat of them all.

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This movie is awful. Genuinely, laugh-out-loud awful in almost all aspects – there are some good actors putting in mediocre performances and poor actors putting in dreadful ones, the camerawork is shaky and confusing, the effects range from passable to laughable, and the writing is sludge. The author of the books this film is based on, Cassandra Clare got her start in fanfiction in a haze of plagiarism allegations, and it shows through every aspect of her work. This is a banal story sprung fully formed from the still-adolescent mind of someone who is a fan of a lot of things and lacks any kind of originality. Dripping in black leather, tattoos, hoodies and skeletons, it feels like a teen trying to rebel but still clinging to childish things. It borrows, or blatantly steals, from a lot of sources – most obviously Harry Potter, with the random Brits (no really, all the Shadowmabobs and werewolves are British, even the ones played by Americans, while two Brits play Americans) and the “Institute” that’s a castle in the middle of New York with a magically bolting door and a library and a morally dubious Dumbledore.  Dreamy, broody Jace brings the blond bad boy element that so attracts Draco Malfoy fans – this is pure fanfiction, an epic crossover jumbled together in an attempt to make something new. There are also dollops of Twilight and hints of Supernatural throughout the mythology, and there’s a “twist” that for some reason the audience knows and the characters don’t (hello, needless dramatic irony) which I think will have a lot of people groaning.

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Hip! Edgy! Sexy! &etc

Once the final fight starts things heat up a little, and it is fun to get to see Simon and kick-ass awesome girl Shadowthing Isabelle (watch-this-space actress Jemima West) burn demon bats with a flamethrower. However, there are genuine laugh-out-loud bad moments in both dialogue and character development – Clary is a truly idiotic heroine, more akin to Bella Swan than Katniss Everdeen, vacant and “clumsy” (that’s how you know she’s relatable!) without even the common sense her human (or “mundane” – yes, really) best friend manages to have. Robert Sheehan’s Simon injects heart and occasional humour, but isn’t given material to match his talent. The pacing of this insipid movie is also terrible – it essentially alternates between action scenes and exposition scenes, with the odd pseudo-romantic scene where a boy and a girl talk with their faces really close together while the soundtrack whispers at you to FEEL THEIR TRAGIC PAIN! I can’t say I didn’t have fun watching the film, but if you want to see something good, give it a miss.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones on IMDb

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