The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)

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Twitter Plot Summary: After her mother disappears, Clary discovers she is a Shadowhunter and must help save our world from demons.

Genre: Action/Adventure/Drama/Fantasy/Mystery/Romance

Director: Harold Zwart

Key Cast: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Kevin Zegers, Jemima West, Robert Sheehan, Kevin Durand, Robert Maillet, Lena Headey, Godfrey Gao, CCH Pounder,  Jared Harris, Jonathan Rhys-Meyer, Aidan Turner.

Five Point Summary:

1. The future Mrs P is clearly Lily Collins. Yowzer.
2. Kevin Durand’s hair is silly.
3. They have a mini Stargate under the stairs!
4. There’s a touch of Star Wars about this…
5. If you’re a werewolf then in human for you have a lovely beard. Fact.

We’re in an age of movie studios looking for the next young adult franchise following the massive success of the Harry Potter and Twilight adaptations. Many have fallen by the wayside after just one film (Golden Compass, Eragon, The Seeker), or faced big budget cuts for sequels designed to recoup some money (Chronicles of Narnia, Percy Jackson). Step up The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, where “Mundane” Clary discovers she’s the latest in a line of Shadowhunters and, after her mother disappears, must help the small remaining band of Shadowhunters defeat demons and protect all that is good, etc etc. As far as plot goes we’re very much in Potter/Twilight territory – obligatory love triangle, family issues, a generally ineffectual villain, and so on. Put it this way, if every modern fantasy film had a checklist of cliches, City of Bones would cover 99% of them.

I’ve not read the source material so I don’t know how big a part it plays there, but the titular City of Bones gets less than five minutes of screen time before we’re whisked away to the next obligatory story point. There’s a few amusing points that raise a chuckle, but they’re few and far between and don’t sit too well with the supposedly dark tone the film seems to wants to achieve. Still, the Ghostbusters gag towards the beginning of the film is pretty good. It’s also difficult to empathise with Clary as we don’t get enough time with her before she gets immersed in the world of angels and demons. She also doesn’t really seem to be fazed by anything that’s happening, which could either be Lily Collins’ acting ability or a massive problem with the script. I would lean towards the latter.

The problem is a confused narrative. There’s too much going on and too many plot threads to keep track of, and we’re not given any clear background to the world in which the story exists. We’re given the bare minimum information necessary before the story chugs forward. Here’s something for the film makers to take note of – exposition is usually handy so we have a vague idea as to what’s going on. Here we get little chunks of story that build to a somewhat inevitable final third – the aforementioned City of Bones, the runes, the vampires, the werewolves… not enough information about all of these aspects means we’re stumbling along in the dark (and there’s a lot of the film set in the dark) rather than enjoying the tale.

Below are a few spoilers, don’t open the tab if you don’t want any part of the story ruined.

[spoiler title=”Spoilers” open=”0″ style=”1″]There’s also quite a big point I want to raise regarding Clary’s best friend Simon. He’s kidnapped by vampires, in a ridiculously weak kidnap plot I might add – they drug his drink and, despite being surrounded by friendly faces, the vampires seem to take him away without any dramatic tension or conflict. Did nobody think to, you know, stop them? Then, after he’s been rescued, Clary discovers that he’s been bitten by one of the vampires yet doesn’t mention it to anybody, and nobody bothers to explain the consequences of receiving a vampire bite. Yes, Simon discovers that he doesn’t need his glasses any more, and later he has the ability to fade into the darkness (apparently), but none of this is explained to the audience. It’s a narrative mess. This is just one of the plot strands that doesn’t receive any/sufficient explanation and it’s frustrating as a result. The point of Clary being able to see other Shadowhunters, yet them being invisible to Mundanes, is also underdeveloped. So she’s in a nightclub and sees a guy bumped off, yet nobody else sees it. This is a nice idea, but what’s the real reasoning behind it? Again, we’re not given sufficient explanation and the entire concept of becoming invisible to Mundanes is not fully explored. There are a couple of points later on where this is referenced, but it’s not used to its full extent and I’d hope to see more of it when the sequel rolls around.[/spoiler]
Furthermore the fate of a number of characters is left unanswered, which I’m sure will be covered in the sequel and is apparently fast-tracked for release next year. And therein lies another problem. Because we’ve been given snatches of ideas throughout the 2 hour run time with little or no context, the film seems to end far too suddenly for its own good and leaves you questioning most of what has just happened. Did the good guys win, or was everybody too distracted by Lily Collins in leather outfits to notice or care? Again, I would lean towards the latter.

It’s big, dumb and silly, and yet another example of a young adult novel being on the receiving end of a poor film adaptation. More focus on telling a compelling story next time please. In fact, try and focus on the core story at the centre of the second book because trying to do a complete adaptation of the source material, as appears to be the case here, will not end as well as you might think. Great idea – lets have a stargate portal and werewolves and vampires and the ability to become invisible and demons and leather and… it’s the narrative equivalent of a child overdosing on sugar. Choosing the most appropriate sections to adapt for film (and which parts to drop) is the reason why the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises did as well as they did, and the production team for the Mortal Instruments franchise should take notes and learn from these examples. They certainly don’t want another Golden Compass on their hands.

Favourite scene: Despite its lack of setup, the fight with the vampires.

Quote: “The werewolves are here to save us. Never thought I’d say that.”

Silly Moment: Kvin Durand’s haircut. Every time you see it you can’t help but laugh.

Score: 2.5/5

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