The Mortal Instruments:
City of Bones
Release Date: August 21, 2013
Cast: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan, Lena Headey, Aidan Turner, Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Director: Harald Zwart
Studio: Constantin Film
Distributor: Screen Gems, Entertainment One
Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Based On City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
The critics will tell you this movie was bad.
They will say this was a typical teenager movie, one in a slew of others that we have seen in the past five years. Well, they aren’t really wrong. But you know what, unlike most of the critics, I didn’t have any problem with it being a “typical” movie based on a young adult novel. Going into this movie and coming out saying “typical” with a pretentious shrug of your shoulder only makes you look like a jerk.
The movie is enjoyable. If you’re young, if you read the books, if you like young adult novel-to-movies, it’s fun. If you had never read the books in your life, this movie would have some pretty big plot holes. The plot is easy enough to follow if you are paying attention, but little details here and there are left unexplained, assuming the viewer already knows the story.
It’s a movie made for a specific audience, and they were banking on readers of the novel coming to see this movie. I remember reading this book in the series by Clare in 2007, and honesty, I was not really disappointed with the film adaptation. Could it have been done better? Of course it could have. A lot of the fault seems to lay on the poor direction of Zwart and an inability to lift the screenplay to appease a more expansive audience.
The film does a good job of introducing the world of the Shadow Hunters and the hidden world that Clary has missed out on all of her life. She is immediately pulled into a romance with Jace Wayland, which develops into a love triangle when you take into account her long time childhood crush, Simon Lewis. I guess it becomes a sort of love pentagon when you bring in Alec Lightwood’s crush on Jace and the eventual romance between Isabelle Lightwood and Simon. There is some brilliant scenes involving the love pentagon cast, from walking a crowded bar to fighting a horde of vampires, the cast has chemistry together.
Although, the relationship between Jace and Clary seemingly comes out of nowhere, one moment they’re kissing in the garden the next moment his heart is being broken over a misunderstanding. Although, I guess that is a pretty accurate depiction of teenage hormones.
Unfortunately, the movie barely lets some of its older talent shine. Heavy hitters like Lena Headey and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are given less than half an hour of screen time to do their magic. Even an aged Aidan Turner only gets a few good scenes. Understandably this is based on the book, and in the book these characters were there to serve as a backdrop to the main story between Clary and Jace. To suddenly include a bunch of scenes would have been a little unexpected.
But it especially fell flat for me with where they took Jamie Campbell Bower as Jace. It’s not because I dislike Bower, I really don’t. I’ve been rooting for him since I saw him in Camelot, but his Jace seemed almost deadpan and definitely didn’t warm up any attraction for me. Not to mention the horrible way they styled his hair that made his forehead look twice as big as it normally does, and twice as skeletal even next to the already waif-life Lily Collins.
The high point of this movie? The visuals. From the CGI magic to the costuming, this movie did some great visual world building, as all fantasies should. The action sequences are great, and can match up to any action film on the market. The visuals are believable and at some points, stunning.
LIke most book-to-movie films, I am caught between how I want to grade it. I tell myself to rate it as a movie alone, but I know it is hard to separate my mind from the source material. In the end, I decided to go with the former. I gave this movie two stars for it’s severe lack of explanation, a little too stereotypic teenage angst, and poor direction.
A sequel is already in the works, and I think a change in direction could move this series out of such a low standing with the critics. But given how horribly complicated the plot gets, they might need more than just a change in direction.
Final Thoughts: If you were a fan of the books, watch it. The target audience will love it. But if you are quick to criticize movies in the same genre, save your money and watch something else.