The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones stumbles out of the Gate, but it works. Michelle’s Review!

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This is why I freely admit that, sometimes, I’m not a good critic. For me a movie only needs to entertain me, whether its intentional or for all the wrong reasons. There is something about the weirdness in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones that had me in stitches (for the wrong reasons) during most of its slightly overlong 2 hour run time.

Based on Cassandra Claire’s popular Mortal Instruments book series, the film wants to be the next big Tween franchise. Supernatural and love triangles are what the Young’ns are into these days. The book series is up to 7 installments, with a few more planned (a movie sequel has already been greenlit), so this thing can go on for years.

It seems like Claire couldn’t really decide what she wanted to focus on so decided to throw everything into this series. You want Vamps? Done. You want Werewolves? Done. You want a love triangle? Done. You want witches and warlocks? Done. You want gay Shadow Hunters? Done. You want incest? Done. Wait, what?! Yes, there is a weird third act twist in this movie that involves potential incest.  I’d hate to read the fanfiction based on this universe – seems like anything goes (except Mary Sues, we all hate them).

Considering the movie’s length you would think they would have taken the time to set up the rules of this world. There is a nice job of world building here, but it just felt so convoluted and no rules were established as to what these demons were capable of. No weaknesses were really established other than they could be killed with magical weapons. One head scratching moment occurs when Demons are put into a frozen state, instead of killing them all, everyone walks past them. Once the spell is over, the fighting starts all over again. Huh? It was never explained why they didn’t just kill them when it was easy.

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When the movie’s heroine Clary (Lily Collins) meets the bad boy shadow hunter Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) he’s initially invisible to all but her, until she tells her best friend Simon (Robert Sheehan) – who is secretly in love with her. For some unexplained reason Jace makes himself visible so Simon can see him.  After that there are numerous moments when Jace explains that Mundanes can’t see something or enter someplace (like their temple) but there Simon is, seeing and entering. Now I’m going to assume this is because they somehow used Runes to do this, but the movie doesn’t make this explicitly clear. They don’t seem to provide any kind of limitation or explanation to how the Runes even work.

The first hour moves at a pretty good clip, but at some point the film just completely lost me. This occurs when we discover Clary’s mother Jocelyn (Lena Headey) was apparently a great Shadow Hunter until she gave it up. Her last duty was to protect some weird mythical cup. The movie comes to a halt as it tries to explain it, but it was so convoluted, I just didn’t care. Shouldn’t this movie be subtitled “Search for the Lost Cup?” I’m still trying to figure out where “City of Bones” comes from.

Director Harald Zwart (Cody Banks, The Karate Kid) manages to juggle all the various plot points and characters fairly well but loses himself in the action sequences which could have been handled better. For some reason almost every big budget movie this year seems to have really crummy cinematography. Have today’s modern Cinematographers forgotten how to make visually interesting looking movies? I used to think it was my eyes, but since my Lasik surgery, they are almost flawless. I got a bit tired of looking at this movie’s bland, gray color pallet.

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Usually, I don’t like self aware, pop culture laden scripts, but since this is set in Modern day New York City, the use of snark and sarcasm actually worked for me. There’s a funny moment when Simon references being in a Ghostbusters movie. It fits this world.  I liked the cast and thought that the movie relied a bit too much on the idea that there would be future installments, so we don’t get to spend a lot of time finding out who these people are and I’m down with going on this journey of discovery.

I’m not going to defend this on craftsmanship, because I really can’t, but like I said in the beginning I like camp – even if it isn’t supposed to be. While this movie is a mess, it strangely worked for me and there is enough here where I think a sequel with a better director could right this ship and now I want to read the books. Despite all its flaws, it is far superior than any of the Twilight movies.

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