I should say right off the bat that I’ve read and am a fan of Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series. I feel with the increasing number of YA adaptations hitting the big screen that making the previous disclaimer is necessary because being a fan of the books means I have a different experience watching the movie than a non-fan. It’s also because these YA books (The Hunger Games and Perks of Being A Wallflower being recent exceptions) are catered almost directly to the book’s fans. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is definitely made for its fans, which is great because that’s a majority of its audience. However, to a more general audience, The Mortal Instruments will feel just like previous YA fare, full of corny “teen movie” clichés, questionable acting and a confusing, convoluted plot.
City of Bones opens with Clary Fray (Lily Collins), a NYC teen living with her single mom, Jocelyn (Lena Headey). We see Clary unknowingly tracing and retracing a symbol; Jocelyn and family friend Luke (Aidan Turner) take note of that with concern written on their faces, as Clary leaves home to hang out with her best friend, Simon (Robert Sheehan). Impulsively deciding to go to a new club that night, Clary stumbles upon a group of teenagers killing someone. She screams, and the group of teens is surprised to see that she noticed them, and when Simon finds her, she realizes he can’t see them like all the club-goers around them. The next day, her mom is kidnapped, leading Clary on a mission to rescue her mother byembarking on a journey to discover the truth about herself and the magical secret world around her.
The movie spends a lot of time introducing Clary, with Simon in tow, to the Shadowhunter world of demons, angels, vampires, werewolves and more in action/fight sequences. Shadowhunters, half-angel half-human beings, are raised to kill demons, which explain what Clary saw those teenagers do the other night. Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) is their leader of sorts, a brooding, cocky, vicious demon fighter. Campbell Bower wasn’t a popular choice for Jace, and I had hoped that he would change my mind with his performance. He didn’t. Campbell Bower just didn’t have the charisma or screen presence to make Jace as captivating of a character that he could be. He wasn’t bad, but nowhere near commendable. I still stand by him being miscast.
As for the other Shadowhunters, Kevin Zegers and Jemima West, who play siblings Alec and Isabelle Lightwood, spend most of their screen time fighting. Fans will catch some little moments from them (like Alec’s cute reaction to Magnus Bane), but the movie gives a half-hearted attempt at fully characterizing them.
Surprisingly and luckily, Simon gets quite a bit of screen time. He’s mostly treated as the comic relief, but seeing as how Simon is probably my favorite TMI character and I love Robert Sheehan from Misfits, he was the best part of the movie. And the only reason I want this movie to do well because knowing how Simon’s character progresses throughout the rest of the series, I would like to see Sheehan take it all on.
The chemistry between Jace and Clary was present but barely in some moments. It didn’t help that some of the romantic moments were corny and cliché. Actually, there were several scenes besides the romantic ones that felt awfully familiar and so cheesy that it was hard not to laugh. It didn’t help that the execution of the complex storyline was so messy and confusing that it was difficult to understand why the villain, Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), was doing what he was doing. Even the twist was mishandled and added to the confusion. Much of the narrative’s info dumping was done by old Shadowhunter recluse Hodge, and flashbacks, which I found super ineffective as back-story.
Nonetheless, despite its many glaring flaws, I had a good time watching The Mortal Instruments. Maybe it’s because I’m a fan of the books or just like most YA movies in general, either way, I enjoyed City of Bones almost the whole way through. Fans will be pleased with this adaptation of one of their favorite books. On the other hand, I can’t blame anyone who thinks TMI looks just like all other YA movies because it does focus on all those tired “teen movie” tropes, when it should’ve focused on all the aspects that make the book series so unique.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones opens in theaters August 21, 2013!