Somehow, Mortal Instruments: City of Bones manages to move like a bat out of hell and be clunky at the same time.
Based on the first in a series of trilogies by Cassandra Clare City of Bones has a good mix of an impressively talented young cast – Lily Collins (Mirror Mirror), Jamie Campbell Bower (Sweeney Todd, Camelot), Robert Sheehan (Misfits), Jemima West (The Borgias) and Kevin Zegers (Gossip Girl, Titanic: Blood and Steel); a number of veterans to add gravitas and grounding – including Jared Harris (Mad Men, Lincoln), Lena Heady (Game of Thrones, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) and CCH Pounder (Warehouse 13, The Shield), and some impressive sets and effects. It also takes events that are well developed in the book and jams them together in such a way as to reduce them to a series of blunt moments held together by no more than momentum.
The plot is pretty intricate and involves all sorts of supernatural beings, a very specific and yet generic history and the possibility that our main characters may be the magical equivalent of Luke and Leia – but the man who tells them that could well be lying.
There’s a kind of Holy Grail – The Mortal Cup, one of three Mortal Instruments – around which the fate planet, or at least many of the supernatural beings on it, hang. Those beings are divided into two camps: Shadowhunters, who hunt and slay demons, and the Downworlders – vampires, werewolves, fairies and warlocks (and no, even in this world there’s no such thing as zombies!).
An angel filled the Mortal Cup with his blood to change mere humans into Shadowhunters – half angel, half human – so that they could protect the world from demons and this cup was apparently entrusted to Jocelyn (Headey) to prevent its power from being abused by Valentine (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), a Shadowhunter who wanted to use it to create an army of his kind that would not keep the world in balance but totally annihilate the demons – or something like that.
Now Valentine wants to find Jocelyn’s daughter, Clary (Collins) – from whom her mother has kept this aspect of the world hidden – in the hope that she will know where the cup is hidden. Clary comes to the notice of Shadowhunters Jace (Bower), Alec (Zegers) and Isabel (West) when she and her best friend Simon (Sheehan) when she takes Simon to a nightclub where she sees them kill a demon –something no one else sees.
Oddly enough, though, Jace does somehow become visible to Simon – as do his friends and the entire supernatural world – thanks to runes. How, exactly, is never explained – and that’s one of the major failings of the movie. Despite its two hours-plus running time, City of Bones manages to introduce all kinds of plot points like that without ever giving us of the rules that cause its world to function in the way that it does.
Some of it we can pick up on, but if you aren’t a fan of the infinitely superior novels, it will be very easy to miss stuff while trying to figure out of the hows and whys of what’s transpiring onscreen.
The cast gives it their best shot, but Jessica Postigo Paquette’s script is too ham-fisted and misses too many important details, and director Harald Zwart (Agent Cody Banks, The Karate Kid remake) is apparently too busy making the movie fast-paced to notice that it’s just a series of events with very little connective tissue.
I have no real idea of how Mortal Instruments: City of Bones will do, but the IMAX screening I attended was barely a third full and there was no excited buzz amongst the target audience (primarily adolescent girls and epic fantasy buffs) as they left the theater. Using the Big Drink Scale, there was about thirty minutes of actual movie left when I finished my drink. Neither of those is a particularly good sign.
Final Grade: D