The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is the latest in a string of movies based on bestselling novels hoping to catch some of that Harry Potter or Twilight box-office magic. Its fast pace and true-to-the-book tone should please its worldwide fan base, and just might help the franchise pick up some new admirers as well. Even boyfriends and dads who are dragged to the theater may be able to tolerate it.
Who’s in it? Lily Collins (Clary Fray), Jamie Campbell Bower (Jace), Robert Sheehan (Simon), Kevin Zegers (Alec), Lena Headey (Jocelyn Fray), Aidan Turner (Luke), Jared Harris (Hodge), Kevin Durand (Pangborn), Jemima West (Isabelle), Godfrey Gao (Magnus Bane), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Valentine), CCH Pounder (Madame Dorothea)
What’s it about? Shortly after Clary begins to see things that others cannot (namely, tattooed and leather-clad hotties fighting each other in nightclubs), her mom vanishes. She is then sucked into the world of Shadowhunters—an elite group of warriors who protect the world from demons. In order to save her mom, Clary and her best friend Simon must help their new supernatural acquaintances find an object that the evil Shadowhunter-gone-rogue Valentine is after. In the process, they come across every type of mythical creature imaginable. Except zombies. Zombies don’t really exist, duh!
What’s good? City of Bones starts out strongly, with several action-packed sequences back to back. Unlike Twilight—which this movie has no choice but to be compared to because it’s aiming for the same audience—the special effects are flawless, the cast’s performances are good, and it’s not all emo music and longing glances between teenagers. At least at the beginning.
I’d read about 60% of the book (the first out of a series of six and counting by Cassandra Clare) beforehand, and was happy that first-time screenwriter Jessica Postigo Paquette kept the novel’s slightly sarcastic, not-taking-itself-too-seriously tone. Certain characters, like Jace, Alec and Simon, were exactly as I’d pictured them. On that note, it was also nice to see the book’s atypical love quadrangle kept intact—an aspect of the story that is sure to stun some unsuspecting viewers more comfortable with the typical Meet Cute.
Could the novel’s complex plot have been pared down substantially for the film adaptation? I would think so. But then again, I haven’t read the rest of the series and don’t know how many details will end up coming into play later on. As a sequel is already in the works, it’s clear that there are high hopes for this franchise continuing its life on the big screen. Personally I was not bothered by the multitude of characters and quick introduction of so many “rules” for the Shadowhunters’ world. Maybe that’s because I got used to that sort of thing while reading and watching Game of Thrones (Cersei crossover alert!).
What could’ve been better? As City of Bones pushes up against its two-hour running time, director Harald Zwart (The Karate Kid (2010)) starts slipping into sloppy clichés. Two of the story’s most shocking twists suffer the consequences of his rushed oversight and are reduced to laughable, mockable moments. One such moment might just be the single stupidest “reveal” I have ever witnessed on film.
I also found City of Bones‘ soundtrack exceedingly distracting; the songs used during key sequences didn’t fit at all. Then I looked up the soundtrack and saw a list of artists including Jessie J, Demi Lovato and Zedd. Now it makes sense.
The bottom line: This is not a movie that anyone should be embarrassed to watch, which certainly wasn’t what I expected going in. But as with many fantasy films based on books, the built-in audience is going to forgive missteps that other viewers will not. I can only assume that younger fans of the franchise will think that this adaption did their beloved source material justice, while everyone else who sees TMI: City of Bones will join the “At least it was better than Twilight” chorus.