8/29/2013 - A teenage girl discovers her magical heritage on her 18th birthday in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, another goulash of werewolves, demon-fighters and love triangles.
Clary (Lily Collins) is Just A Normal Girl but she finds herself doodling a strange symbol, one that causes her mother (Lena Headey) to get all anxious and I-have-a-secret-y. While out on the town with her nerdy friend Simon (Robert Sheehan), she sees that symbol outside a club. Once inside, she sees a mysterious dude — who we eventually learn is named Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) — stab a guy with a sword. She screams, causing everyone to look — at her. She’s the only one who can see Jace, the stabbing or the stabbee, who turns into some tentacled bit of CGI.
Later, she sees Jace again. As he tries to find out who she is and why she can see him, Clary gets a frantic call from her mother, who tells her daughter not to come home but to run and find Luke (Aidan Turner), a family friend. Naturally, Clary runs home to look for her mother but finds instead bad special effects that chase her for a while until Jace shows up and kills them. After all the “what, what,” we get to this: Clary, her mom and Jace are all Shadowhunters, people with some supernatural gifts who hunt demons. The men after Clary’s mom are looking for some magical cup that Clary’s mom hid somewhere. Clary, Jace and assorted sidekicks — the human Simon and Jace’s fellow Shadowhunters Alec (Kevin Zegers), Isabelle (Jemima West) and their mentor Hodge (Jared Harris) — have to find and protect the cup to keep complicated and vaguely-defined bad things from happening.
$3.3 billion. That’s the answer to the question “Why would somebody make this movie?” The Twilight movies cost a total of $385 million to make and brought in $3.3 billion in worldwide box office, according to Box Office Mojo numbers reported by Wikipedia. The Harry Potter movies brought in some $7.7 billion, according to Wikipedia. With numbers like that, is it any wonder that studios collage together lip gloss, teen angst and supernatural bric-a-brac every few months to give us half-baked lumps like City of Bones or the Percy Jackson movies?
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, which is based on its own popular young adult book series, combines some of the worst tendencies of this genre. This movie, based on the first book in the series, tries to do a lot of things: provide an origin story for Clary, set up the mythology of this world, introduce us to the other main characters, set up the conflict of the series and establish the possible romantic entanglements. City of Bones crams in so much explanation that at times the forward momentum of the plot seems like it takes a back seat to exposition. Plot points that are potentially interesting are raised only to be immediately dropped and never mentioned again. Clary isn’t the world’s most electrifying character, but we also don’t get a lot of time to know her — the movie is too busy walking her through meetings with vampires and witches and other mystical beings whose place in this movie’s universe I’m still not sure I totally understand.
I can understand book-to-movie translations not wanting to lose their book fans by revamping the story, but some simplification of the plot might help thiscomplicated, mythology-heavy adaptation appeal to a wider audience. Twilight (setting aside for a moment its many faults) did a fairly simple thing with its first movie: vampires are real and one of them likes a human girl. That’s the bare bones of the story, which later movies build on to create a wider universe that eventually encompasses ridiculous things like Dakota Fanning as vampire royalty and a terrifying CGI baby, but the first movie, the one that hooked in people who hadn’t read the book, kept things streamlined. The movie needed to make me care about the teens and their goofy romance if it wanted me to feel invested enough to sit through the backstory of demon versus angel battles.
The fact that The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones could learn a thing or two about storytelling from Twilight probably tells you all you need to know about this movie. D+
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action, and some suggestive content. Directed by Harald Zwart with a screenplay by Jessica Postigo (from the book by Cassandra Clare), The Mortal Instruments: City of Bonesis two hours and 10 minutes long and distributed by Sony.