Before I started reviewing movies, my best friend and I would go once or twice a month to the movie theater on a Sunday and spend the day watching three movies. The two of us just loved seeing movies. Needless to say, he usually tags along to the screeners I attend when he doesn’t have to work, and when I asked him if he wanted to see The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, even though he did have to work, he offered this question: “I can’t tell if that movie looks really good or like teen girl bullshit.” Well, now that I’ve seen it I can answer his question with a simple yes.
To put it quite simply in a way that is a little more descriptive, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (which is a really bad title regardless of the book it was based on) is a teen girl bullshit version of Supernatural (which some would say is impossible to make). The world we live in happens to be filled with demons and other creatures of the night, but unless you have certain abilities, a normal ‘mundane’ can’t see them. Our heroine, plucky redhead Phil Collins’s daughter whose character’s name is Clary, discovers that after endlessly drawing a particular symbol, she can see things that normal people can’t. Enter the pale, muscular, tattooed bad boy Jace who reveals that she has the blood of a shadowhunter, those cast with ridding the world of demons.
The often action heavy plot of the movie is easily interesting enough to carry the movie by itself and, I believe, the setting and character design would be enough to bring that crucial teen girl and middle-age housewife demographic in without having to immerse itself in the elements that are constantly holding the movie back. There’s nothing wrong with romance, but I shouldn’t be able to point out every point on the ever expanding love triangle the second characters are introduced on screen. I also shouldn’t be able to predict the first character who is going to die because of the moronic love square-thing (or almost die because killing characters is too much for most stories in this ilk).
Almost every problem with The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones can be summed up with one particular scene, the kiss. Of course Jace and Clary are going to kiss, but they do it on Clary’s birthday, after Jace is the only one remembers because he ‘researched’ her. He gives her a sweet gift (literally, it’s fruit with a candle shoved in it) and takes her to the most beautiful room in the institute of shadowhunters, the garden. Then, because the clock strikes an hour, all the plants bloom and light the room with glowy magic. They take each other in their arms while this awful song is playing and then, they don’t kiss. Then they do and, oh what romantic cliched times, it rains! And that song, like so much of the music and score of this movie, only serves to tell you exactly what you should be feeling in the scene, because the movie can’t do that well enough on its own.
If you can get over the awful romantic plots and terrible music choices, the demon hunting and magic elements are interesting. While tattooing runes on ones body to imbue magical properties may seem like an excuse to design characters out of an emo high school girl’s trapper keeper of wet dreams, it never felt like it was pandering. Though when Jonathan Rhys Meyers does show up as the film’s villain, he pulls off the menacing villain in spite of a hairstyle I can only assume sounded cool in the pages of a novel, but looked like one of the worst wigs in recent costuming design. He looked like the worst fan drawn Jedi Knight meets white dreadlocked hippie. Then he makes cool pentagrams and menaces and you can almost forgive his dumb hair.
We also have to talk about how the movie pulls a Star Wars and then doesn’t adequately talk its way out of it. Though I can’t say how without spoiling the movie, but let’s just say I’m talking about one of the only problems with Episode V. It’s one of the several plot threads that has been clearly saved for the sequels to resolve, which is fine in a novel, but makes the film seem incomplete. There are so many fascinating magic and action elements that when the movie slows down to get into the romantic subplots, it doesn’t feel genuine. Whether it’s a problem with the source material or not (which I haven’t read), these elements feel forcibly shoehorned in just to pander to the Twilight demographic.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is a movie that is filled with interesting and good ideas, but has to constantly trip over itself to pander to the teen girl demographic along the way. If movies like Twilight make you cringe in horror, the melodrama elements might be too much for you to handle, but what they’re getting in the way of is an interesting story that stands to be an even more interesting series. If this doesn’t do well enough to actually become a series though, I’ve been left with some pressing questions that could end up making me despise the story as a whole. At least The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is a movie that earns its action scenes and is a pretty good movie at its core unlike the other teen girl pandering movie that is utter garbage.
In Theaters: August 21, 2013
Runtime: 130 min
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action, and some suggestive content
Director: Harald Zwart
Cast: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Kevin Zegers, Jemima West
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Romance
Distributor: Screen Gems
Official Site: http://www.themortalinstrumentsmovie.com/