'The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones' review: You can skip this over-the-top YA adaptation(Read article summary)
'The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones' has more sappy romantic drama than 'Twilight' and its source novel has little emotional payoff, leaving little for 'Mortal Instruments: City of Bones' director Harold Zwart to work with.
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InÂ The Mortal Instruments: City ofÂ Bones we are handed the revelation that the world we think we know exists on top of a supernatural plane in which the forces of good and evil are constantly at war. New York teenager Clary Fray (Lily Collins) lives a normal existence â€“ that is, until her latest birthday reveals strange new powers like â€śthe sightâ€ť â€“ a mystery that turns into panic when Claryâ€™s overprotective mother, Jocelyn (Lena Headey), goes missing.
While on the search for her mom, Clary is attacked by a fearsome demon â€“ only to be saved by Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), a mysterious demon-hunter (â€śshadowhunterâ€ť) that only Clary seems to see. Jace reveals to Clary that she â€“ like her mother â€“ Â is one of a select group of shadowhunters, tasked with protecting the world from demonic forces. With a dark threat rising, and her mother in peril, Clary, Jace, and their allies will wage warrior against a clandestine threat within the shadowhunter order, while searching for the powerful talisman known as The Mortal Cup, whose location only Jocelyn knows for sure.
The Young Adult movie genre has gotten something of a stigma since TwilightÂ invaded the mainstream, and most moviegoers approach any film within that genre â€“ specifically the YA supernatural sub-genre â€“ with a very critical eye for quality storytelling over hokey romance fantasy and skewed supernatural mythology. Iâ€™m proud to report that despite having a very skilled cast of both younger and older actors doing it justice, the material propping up The Mortal InstrumentsÂ is every YA genre skepticâ€™s nightmare, and the cinematic interpretation is such an overwrought, drab and cumbersome film that itâ€™s not even a suitable popcorn-muncher to help pass the time.
At the helm is director Harald Zwart, who is best known for the 2010Â Karate KidÂ reboot and his early 2000s film,Â Agent Cody Banks.Â City of Bones is an ugly movie (in no uncertain terms) that squanders so much potential. The blocking, framing, angles and mis-en-scene are poorly imagined and executed; the cinematography by Hollywood newcomer Geir Hartly Andreasen looks like someoneâ€™s grainy home video; and the director canâ€™t seem to capture or realize any of the imaginativeness of the source material â€“ ultimately resulting in a fantastical world that looks anything BUT fantastical.
Zwart even manages to make his pretty leads just as often look awkward, grimy or otherwise unattractive â€“ a rare feat in filmmaking. In terms of both action and (budgeted) visual effects, however,Â City of BonesÂ is a definite step up fromÂ The Twilight Saga,Â offering a few sequences of genuinely exciting action and/or visual splendor.
To be fair, beyond the imaginative world and premise, there isnâ€™t much good material for Zwart to work with.Â City of BonesÂ screenplay writer Jessica Postigo tried to streamline the convoluted novel by Cassandra Clare, but still winds up with an overwrought story that has little emotional punch or payoff and a whole lot of awkwardness by the end. It starts as an intriguing enough mystery, evolves into a suitable second-act quest; however, some third-act â€śtwistsâ€ť just derail whatever narrative momentum the story manages to build, and muddles both the mythology and character relationships developed up to that point, leaving us with an awkward ending that doesnâ€™t feel much like an ending so much as a chapter break.
This story also has more sappy romantic drama and soap opera-style love triangles thanÂ TwilightÂ ever did, making it even more exhausting to endure. As this is both an adaptation and the opening chapter in a larger saga, there are many subplots, foreshadowings and other developments that the movie introduces but fails to explain or resolve â€“ a detriment when set against the need for a film to tell a complete standalone story.
Too bad for the cast of actors in the crossfire, as they manage to do pretty well with their characters and the flimsy material theyâ€™re working with. Blind SideÂ andÂ Mirror MirrorÂ star Lily Collins is overqualified for her role, bringing real gravitas and emotion to a performance that is ultimately doomed by the movie around it. Jamie Campbell Bower is sharp and witty as Jace, Claryâ€™s newfound ally and love interest, and he and Collins have strong chemistry. Supporting players like Jaceâ€™s adopted siblings Alec (Kevin Zegers) and Isabelle (Jemima West) or Claryâ€™s competing love interest, Simon (Robert Sheehan), are all interesting but ultimately shortchanged by a narrative that spreads itself way too thin in both focus and development.
There is also a cast of well-known stars given bit parts to play (to varying fun or ridiculousness).Â Game of ThronesÂ star Lena Headey;Â Mad MenÂ star Jared Harris;Â TudorsÂ star Jonathan Rhys Meyers;Â Being HumanÂ star Aidan Turner;Â Warehouse 13Â star CCH Pounder andÂ LostÂ star Kevin Durand are just a few of the quality character actors this film manages to (somehow) wrangle together. With the exception of Meyers, the veteran actorsâ€™ respective scenes certainly elevate the material where possible â€“ but unfortunately, those scenes are few.
In the end,Â The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is yet another would-be franchise trying (and quite likely failing) to fill the post-TwilightÂ void. Even with a richer, darker, more action-packed premise; a more intriguing world; and a cast featuring some quality UK thespians with actual acting chops in the leads, there is just no denying that the story and the movie are both sub-par, forgettable â€“ and worst of all, crushingly boring by the end. Bury this one under a city of bones, and tell the cast to seek more lively pastures.
Kofi Outlaw blogs at Screen Rant.