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The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

“You have an incredible gift and we need you.”

Being based off a book series that on its best day can’t lay claim to anything in the vicinity of originality was always going to make City of Bones an uphill battle. Even though they don’t ever attempt anything out-of-the box, or break new ground, The Mortal Instruments books are always a lot of fun. The characters are well drawn, the story is well constructed and it never takes itself too seriously. This film never actually fully hits any of those notes, and it tries so hard to draw in a newer audience that it sacrifices the integrity of the original story. It’s all a little sad, because the better parts of this film are shrouded in badly delivered dialogue, and contrived moments of romance.

I don’t know when the studios are going to pick up on the idea that the generic love-story just doesn’t sell tickets anymore. Beautiful Creatures, despite being a pretty decent film, faltered because of its inability to sell the differentiating parts of its story. Though the trailer for City of Bones doesn’t really make it seem like it’s the film’s focal point, it was never really sold as anything over the board. The film isn’t any better with this, either, with the central romance turning away any potential audience outside the books original fan base and every single line of attempted swoon-inducing falling flat.

The film is all over the place in trying to explain the original story, cutting corners in strange places, and ruining the original “twist” by attempting to change the audience perspective on the whole thing. The exposition isn’t as clunky as I had initially thought, though, with flashbacks falling into place nicely, and helping to fill in the big text heavy parts of the book. The action is fun to watch, despite never really being fully rationalised. The special effects are pretty cool, too, and they make the film’s action sequences even more entertaining.

Casting was a huge problem here, but I wouldn’t say it was all wrong. Lily Collins is incredibly likable, and embodies Clary better than anyone could have asked her to. Lena Heady is perfect as Clary’s mother, Jocelyn. Supporting cast members Jared Harris, Aiden Turner, Jemima West and Kevin Zegers, despite their limited screen time, all feel like the right choices.

On the other hand, Robert Sheehan looks the part, but he camps geeky Simon up unnecessarily. Godfrey Gao is pathetically mundane (this review needs at least one of those puns) in the books’ most fascinating and outlandish character, Magnus. Jonathan Rhys Myers is probably the worst casting choice, not just because he’s a huge contradiction to the character originally envisioned, but because of his inexplicable choice to ham up Valentine beyond recognition. It’s like the man took a class in juvenile acting 101 before he stepped on set. As for Jamie Campbell Bower, he tries, he really does, but it’s a little hard to take him all that seriously.

Honestly, I think I sent my expectations too high with this one, and that was after I had read the scathing reviews. I wouldn’t say that all the hate is justified, though. I enjoyed the majority of the film, and for fans of the book series I think it’s something you have to see for yourself, but the film’s flaws really hurt City of Bones in a way that similar films with more rabid fans could take. Considering the box office takings so far, I don’t think one last not-so-nice review is going to hurt, but I still feel guilty that critical backlash is hurting the chances of City of Ashes making it on-screen. But there’s no excuse for banal film making.

2.5 out of 5 Shadowhunter runes


  1. I too was looking forward to this one, but with a generous helping of "I'm prepared for this to suck". Thankfully with that glowing attitude going in, I wasn't woefully disappointed. Still, I agree with pretty much every single point you make. Magnus was utterly disappointing, and Valentine was miscast, or badly acted or something. I liked Clary, but I didn't care about her romance options one bit. And where was the Simon/Isabelle side stuff? Sigh.

    I've only read the first book, and I wonder if they didn't explain the mythology well enough. They definitely didn't spend enough time developing the characters. I did like it though, if only because it was marginally better than some other recent adaptations.

  2. Oh well..I knew this wouldn't be stellar but this sounds bad. A boring Magnus Bane? How could that happen?
    A waste of Lena Headey too which is criminal.

  3. Nice review, Panda.

    I, too, was prepared to be disappointed with this adaptation.

    The runes, which is an integral part of The Mortal Instruments mythology, and my favorite thing in the story sucked. I expected much for this. I guess fake inked tattoos are easier to produce than "scar-like tattoos".

    I agree with the bad castings. Wouldn't be surprised if the characters of Jace, Valentine and Magnus gets to be played with
    different actors. That is, IF The City of Ashes gets to be filmed.

    If I watched this film before I read the book, I would find it a bit confusing.

  4. I honestly really liked Jace, Magnus and JRM as Valentine. I only read the books because I heard JRM had been cast. Considering it was Godfrey Gao's first major motion picture speaking in English, I'm rather happy with how it went, even if they had to ADR his lines.

    Considering that they just cast Sigorney Weaver in City of Ashes, I have a feeling it's still going to go ahead, regardless of the critics and nay-sayers.

  5. I was curious to watch this movie after I finished watching the first season of Shadowhunters. I haven't read the books, so it ended up being pretty cool to watch the movie and see how one adaptation compares to another. Because, well, they are very different animals. Light spoilers for the first season of Shadowhunters follow:

    - One thing I kept asking myself while watching the first season of Shadowhunters was why it was nearly always the same small team of shadowhunters (the main characters) in every mission, even when the mission asked for more people involved. In the movie, it's made clear that the Institute is on its last legs, and the shadowhunters still around are the ones we meet. I wonder which is more faithful to the books?

    - That beautiful indoor garden is nowhere to be seen on the first season of the TV show (not that I remember, anyway).

    - As far as writing goes, the movie is better than most of Shadowhunters S1, but not better than the final episodes of that season. It's rushed and there was a particular plot point (Hodge's betrayal) I only understood because I had watched the show.

    - They mentioned there are other mortal instruments (it's the name of the movie, heh) while season one of Shadowhunters only mentions the Mortal Cup (again, this could be the case of my memory betraying me).

    > Robert Sheehan looks the part, but he camps geeky Simon up unnecessarily.

    Well, Alberto Rosende does the same on the TV series, so I didn't have a problem with that. I actually ended up liking Sheehan's version a bit better, but he didn't get the full vampire storyline. I also liked movie Clary better too, mostly because of the acting.

    Magnus is *much* better on the TV show, no contest. TV series Alec is much better too, if only because movie Alec has no charisma nor storyline whatsoever. TV Valentine also wins. In the movie, Valentine appears two thirds into the film and it's all very confusing.

    I'm surprised to see that much dislike towards movie Jace. It took me forever to like TV show Jace, while in the movie I liked him pretty much from the start.

    > ruining the original “twist” by attempting to change the audience perspective on the whole thing.

    Is this about Jace not being Valentine's son? It was such an aha moment for me watching the movie. I was convinced Valentine was lying about being Jace's father, and since Shadowhunters decided to carry that fake news into season two, I was glad the movie told me the truth. But now I wonder, are we supposed to only learn that later? If that's the case, I'm not mad.

    All in all, the movie was rushed, but I liked it as a side story to the TV show. Should I read the books?


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