‘The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones’ movie review: young adult misfire


A total mess and complete non-starter as the next big Young Adult franchise, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is as disheveled and confusing as its unwieldy title might imply. After sitting through over two hours of this chaos I can barely identify one of the titular Instruments, though I wouldn’t dare attempt to explain its significance. City of Bones? Forget it, no clue.

Of course, fans of the popular series of novels (written by Cassandra Clare) should have a better idea of what’s going on; being able to fill in all the blanks left by Jessica Postigo’s script – in terms of plot, character, motivation, and general story cohesion – may turn this otherwise polished effort into something watchable.

The rest of us would be well advised to find a better way to spend a seemingly never-ending 130 minutes.

Mortal Instruments begins with Clary Fray (Lily Collins) scrawling a weird symbol all over the place, which causes her mother Jocelyn (Lena Headey) to exchange some concerned looks with boyfriend (?) Luke Garroway (Aidan Turner).

Later, Clary goes out to a club with nerdy friend Simon Lewis (Robert Sheehan), who is secretly in love with her, only to witness a ritual (?) murder committed by Jace Wayland (Jamie Campbell Bower) and his ‘goth chic’ posse. But Clary, apparently, is the only one who can see these people.

When she gets home, Clary discovers that her flat has been ransacked, mom has been kidnapped, and an evil CGI demon dog is waiting for her in the kitchen. But Jace and downstairs neighbor Madame Dorothea (C. C. H. Pounder) are on hand to try to answer some of her questions.

This all occurs barely fifteen minutes into the film, with the reality of this world never established and its characters only barely sketched. We have all sorts of questions at this point, but boy did we pick the wrong movie to answer them: Mortal Instruments seems to operate under the assumption that exposition doesn’t have to make sense, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t try to explain, and explain, and explain…

Clary, you see, is a “Shadowhunter”, a warrior chosen to hunt demons living on Earth, for some reason. She joins Jace, and Alec (Kevin Zegers) and Isabelle Lightwood (Jemima West), and Hodge Starkweather (Jared Harris), in their quest to find Clary’s mother and stop evil shadowhunters (?) Emil Pangborn (Kevin Durand) and Samuel Blackwell (Robert Maillet) and Valentine Morgenstern (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who are attempting to obtain the “Mortal Instrument” in order to take over the world because…

Nope, forget it. This movie lost me well before the halfway point, and I stuck it out only due to some perverse sense of obligation. Suffice it to say there are vampires and werewolves, a love triangle between the main characters, cheesy dialogue, and long, meaningful glances before this thing is over. And some startling (?) revelations, which may or may not be true, in which case why the heck do we care.

Mortal Instruments, you see, is this year’s latest attempt at mining a new Twilight-like franchise from a popular Young Adult series of novels. First there was the polished but utterly bland Beautiful Creatures, about witchcraft and young love in the deep South, and then the polished but unintentionally hilarious The Host, about alien parasites and young love in the near future, and now this, about and young love in. Did I say unique location? Make that nondescript city (Toronto, filling in for New York).

Each of these films, incredibly, has been worse than the last; Mortal Instruments takes the cake with its endless stream of nonsense and incoherent storyline. A second film was slated to go into production early next year, but plans for that were put on hold after this one tanked at the U.S. box office. Phew.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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