Cassandra Clare’s bestselling novel makes the leap to film in an attempt to dethrone the Twilight series as the new YA queen of the silver screen. The Mortal Instruments takes a different road focusing on angels and demons. Clary Fray finds herself thrust into the middle of a war that “can never be won, but must always be fought.” I wish it was a war that had stayed classified.
It’s Clary’s birthday and as she gets older, something isn’t quite right. She’s drawing crazy symbols, her mom is acting strange, and people are killing each other at nightclubs and she’s the only one who seems to notice. Clary doesn’t know it yet, but she is gifted. She can see what regular people known as “Mundanes” cannot. Naturally, she’s a little freaked out by the apparent nightclub murder, even more so when the boy that wielded the sword shows up at a coffee shop the next day to have a little chat about what she saw, and what she is.
Lily Collins plays the young Clary, trying to unravel the mystery that is now her life. Unfortunately, her more than capable acting ability is not enough to save the film from its cramped script and overly corny scenes. Full disclosure here: I have not read any of the books in this series. I knew up front it was a novel geared toward a younger audience, so I was prepared to slog through a love story. Before seeing the film, I spoke to some people familiar with the series and was actually kind of excited to dip into a brand new fantastical world, and the lead-in to Clary learning her heritage and her first encounter with a demon at her house was actually quite refreshing. From there it was all downhill, and if parts of the plot not been explained to me beforehand, I’m not sure how easy it would have been to follow.
Half human and half angel Jace, excellently played by Jamie Campbell Bower, explains to Clary that she is part of a line of demon killers known as Shadow Hunters. The man she saw him murder was…. not a very nice person. Upon finding out that her mother has been kidnapped, she enlists his help, and from the start the two are clearly attracted to one another – a development that Clary’s childhood friend Sammy (Robert Sheehan) is not a fan of. Yet again Sheehan tries to save this film with HIS well placed quirkiness as a regular guy trying to understand that his best friend is some sort of chosen one.
Borrowing from Twilight, Harry Potter and other fantasy movies, City of Bones fails to solidify its own identity and falls victim to the usual tropes. The effort put in to drop a few well placed funny lines fades into the background when forced to watch Clary and Jace’s budding romance. At one point during a much anticipated kiss, the sprinklers in the garden turn on, dousing the starry-eyed couple as music swells. You know it’s bad when leaving the theater you overhear two young girls discussing which part of the movie they disliked the most.
With as much credit given to the younger actors, you’d think the somewhat veterans would have something to lend to the movie. Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) was a little hindered playing the mother, since by nature of the script she did not have a lot to say. The villain Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, The Tudors) was on either end of the spectrum, screaming or falling flat, and only accentuated by the poor haircut he was forced to wear.
From the fact that all werewolves had a beard in human form, a throwaway scene regarding vampires and in the climax of the film, one of the hunters killing demons with a flamethrower (why exactly would fire have an effect on them?) Mortal Instruments is ultimately a laughable mess. Save yourself by reading the books and using your own imagination as I intend to do.