Love triangles, fantasy characters, and leather jackets? You’ve come to the right place! Also, please hold your vomiting and eye-rolling until the end of the review. Thank you, and enjoy your ride!
So The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (This long-ass title is going to get annoying to type every time) is a series of six novels written by Cassandra Clare. I’ve never read them, so I can’t exactly comment on the adaptation; however, from what I’ve seen (and heard about the series), The Mortal Instruments is a fairly standard in terms of teen supernatural romance and the various dumbassery that follows. If you’re not getting a clear picture, just pick one of the millions of books in the Young Adult section at your local bookstore, and you’ll get the idea. Also, just look at this goddamn poster. “You Have Been Chosen.” HAHAHA, please.
Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) did an interview recently with Entertainment Weekly and talked about female characters in young adult franchises. I found it particularly interesting while thinking about The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (Seriously, this f***ing title). Here’s what Whedon said: “The Twilight thing and a lot of these franchise attempts coming out, everything rests on what this girl will do, but she’s completely passive, or not really knowing what the hell is going on. And that’s incredibly frustrating to me because a lot of what’s taking on the oeuvre of Buffy, is actually a reaction against it. Everything is there—except for the Buffy. A lot of things aimed at the younger kids is just Choosing Boyfriends: The Movie.” What an awesome and incredibly honest burn toward filmmakers and novelists.
Why did I bring this up? Because The Mortal Instruments is no different. But we’ll get into that below…
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (I’m copying and pasting this title from now on, goddamnit) follows teen Clary Fray (Lily Collins), who suddenly starts seeing and drawing weird symbols everywhere she goes. After witnessing a murder in a nightclub, Clary runs into a mysterious “shadowhunter” named Jace (Jamie Campbell-Bower), who finds it odd that she can see him when she is one of the “mundane” (a.k.a. human). But, of course, it turns out that Clary isn’t a mundane after all; in fact, she’s a shadowhunter, too, like Jace. After her mom, Jocelyn (Lena Headey), is attacked and kidnapped by shadowhunters working for the evil Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), Clary, Jace, and Clary’s mundane friend, Simon (Robert Sheehan), team up to find her and the hidden Mortal Cup, one of the three Mortal Instruments belonging to the shadowhunters. During this journey, Clary learns more about who she really is and the power she has while also facing her love for both Jace and Simon.
While the movie is entertaining, you can’t help but feel you’ve just watched a mashup of every young adult theme ever created. Angels, demons, vampires, werewolves, witches, warlocks, dysfunctional families, magic spells, sexual tension, superpowers, ancient runes. It’s like Buffy the Demon-Slaying True Blood Girlfriend to Twilight Angel in A Place That’s Totally Not Xavier’s Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizard for Gifted Shadowhunters. Perhaps that’s why this story seems so lackluster in terms of originality—because it borrows from everything else.
What’s even more unfortunate, though, is that this movie even looks like all of the other young adult films. I kid you not, I think they either bought soundstages from the Harry Potter films or filmed in similar locations because The Institute looks uncanny to Hogwarts. Even the CGI creatures, like the werewolves and demons, look they were just copied directly from other movies and shows. Remember, just because the story reads the same as others doesn’t mean it has to follow suit in styling. But, of course, it does. Because why should filmmakers create something new when this same franchise formula sells over and over again without anyone noticing?
Remember that Joss Whedon quote from earlier? Well, let’s get into that now.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones’ main character and heroine Clary is anything but a hero in this movie. She’s a thin beauty with long wavy hair, and she has an indescribable influence over the men around her (like every female character in a young adult film). That’s about the extent of her power. Sure, you could argue that the first book/film in the series is just where Clary is learning that she has powers, so she spends most of the film finding herself and fiddling with powers she doesn’t yet understand. But I call bullshit. Because Harry Potter.
While I will say that Clary was a bit more heroic and active than Twilight‘s Bella Swan, it still seemed like she ran around for half of the movie “not really knowing what the hell is going on” (as Whedon put it) and trying to decide whether she loved shadowhunting broody hipster Jace or friend-zoned nerdy hipster Simon. I’m not saying Clary can’t have love interests or that she can’t ever show doubt or confusion. In fact, those are parts of a multi-dimensional character. The problem is when those parts become the only dimension. Here’s hoping Clary grows in the future.
Another problem with this film? Too many characters, too little development. Why should I care about Alec (Kevin Zegers) and Isabelle (Jemima West)—who shadowhunt with Jace—if I know nothing about them? Honestly, we got more development for Clary’s mom, Jocelyn, who was unconscious for 90 percent of the movie.
Not to mention, the dialogue was ridiculously cliché (The “If you wanted me to take my clothes off, you could’ve asked” kind of cheesy), and the wooing scenes were so awkward. However, I will give props to this movie’s consistency in foreshadowing and smaller scenes. Like when Clary mentions how her mom painted the tarot cards for the witch in the apartment below them, and then we find out later that Clary’s mom could hide objects in paintings (*cough, cough* THE MORTAL CUP). Or that semi-creepy moment between Jace and Clary, where Jace shows how the portal works by placing a bubble next to her face, reaching through the portal to stroke her cheek. And then later, he uses that same technique to punch Valentine in the face during the movie’s climax.
How about that ending though? You know, the one where we learn that Clary and Jace (whose real name is Jonathan) are the children of Valentine and Jocelyn. Funnily enough, that realization in combination with their passionate kiss made Luke and Leia seem less gross. A lot of people were turned off by that shocking twist, as well as by the ending where Clary and Jace rode off on a motorcycle together awkwardly. Of course, I was curious whether or not these two were ACTUALLY siblings. If they were, it would mean we’d have a more original (and slightly creepy) series, playing on the age-old question of whether or not you’d stay with your one true love if you found out they were your sibling. Plus, could you imagine all of the deeply psychological development there could be with this storyline? If they weren’t, the love triangle would be back on (Ugh).
So I looked it up (BIG SPOILER. DON’T READ IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW). And guess what? They aren’t siblings. Clary’s real brother doesn’t appear until the second or third book. Suddenly, everything is less creepy, but we’re back to unoriginal.
Overall, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones—besides having a perfect title for porn—was cliché and unoriginal, just like every other teen supernatural romance series available on the market now. As I said, it’s like watching a mashup of all of the other movies because the story is nothing new. The heroine, Clary, who’s played by Lily Collins, is better than Twilight‘s Bella Swan, but she is leagues away from being as developed as Buffy Summers, Hermione Granger, and Katniss Everdeen. Perhaps, with time and more movies, she can become less of a passive character and into someone more than the pretty girl caught between two boys, but I’m not holding my breath. So Joss Whedon was right once again because this was basically just another Choosing Boyfriends: The Movie.