I’m told The Mortal Instruments books by Cassandra Clare are popular in that oh-so-hot Young Adult genre that Hollywood keeps mining to discover the next Twilight (not for their merit but for their box office). After watching the first of the series turned into a feature film, subtitled The City of Bones, I can see why the books might be a hit, particularly with teenage girls. However, I am seriously hoping the movies don’t find any success because I don’t particularly want to sit through another one of these things. (And yes, I know the sequel is already in pre-production but if this tanks, it’s not too late to pull the plug and save the studio face & money while saving the world from another bad movie.)
It all starts off innocuously enough. Lily Collins plays Clary, a young woman who has begun to see past the veil that clouds the world we puny humans can see. That fun ability is thanks to having some angel blood in her veins (ain’t genetics grand?) and she discovers a world within our world, where Shadowhunters (angel descendants) hunt demons and try to keep the balance of good and evil in check. Hmm, I’ve already seen Constantine.
Now, before I go any further, I’m warning you. What follows in this review is a whole heap of SPOILERS. Seriously. I’m going to reveal major plot points. If you’ve read the books, you’re fine. If you weren’t going to buy a ticket and just enjoy me ripping on a movie, you’re more than fine. If you wanted to see it, just know this: you shouldn’t. There. Simple enough. And now on with the critique.
Of course, there’s a love interest that binds it all together for our heroine. Here, it’s a pale, blond kid named Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) who perhaps girls find attractive. I don’t know anymore considering the popularity of Justin Bieber, Robert Pattinson, and Shia LaBeouf. No one will ever make me understand that unholy trinity … well, maybe Pattinson … but that’s because he’s also Cedric Diggory and has a British accent. Chicks dig accents.
ANYWHO. Where was I?!? Oh yeah, ripping City of Bones. -Wait. One second. Need to go on a tangent. Why is this called City of Bones? They go to a place named that for like, five minutes. It’s never mentioned again. You might as well have called this City of the Random Coffee Shop, or City of the Douchey Nightclub. We spend just as much time in both of those locations.
Back to spoiling things, the whole movie centers around the search for the Mortal Cup – a chalice that an angel used to grant some lucky humans with special abilities. A former Shadowhunter who went mad on power (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) wants the Cup, and wouldn’t you know it, Clary is the key to it all. Hmm, I’ve already seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Back to all that love in the air, while Clary is oblivious to the obvious “best friend” who’s loved her for years without saying anything (Robert Sheehan), once she meets Jace, the Twilight love triangle is complete (and yes, this movie has vampires. Swoon? Wait, that’s not right. Puke! That’s it.) There’s a ridiculous scene midway through, all set to a cheesy song (which I’ll probably download later) inside a botanical garden of sorts where, I shit you not, the two lovebirds finally manage to do the needful (i.e. start kissing) and the ceiling sprinklers go off! If you’re scoring at home (good for you but not what I meant), that’s actually a NET ZERO. No, not the internet service. Here, I’ll count it all up: 1 point for the music; 1 point for the sprinklers; 1 point for the two lovestruck teens making out; but -3 points for the horrendous blocking, directing and dialogue. Hmm, where have I’ve seen an equally awful “romantic” scene? Oh yeah, when that sparkly vamp and the lip-biter girl laid out in a sea of wildflowers and stared at each other while the audience wondered if they forgot their lines. Hmm, I’ve (sadly) already seen Twilight (all of them actually so say a little prayer for me tonight).
Then we get to the action/fighting. It’s handled fairly well for the genre. To be fair, my expectations were scattered on the floor with some sticky soda residue the theater staff hadn’t quite mopped up entirely. However, there comes a point when Clary realizes she’s got some mad demon-fighting skills and is able to hold up her hand and freeze a gang of evildoers from making swift work of her and her friends. Basically, she’s the One. Hmm, I’ve already seen The Matrix.
And now we come to my favorite piece of “borrowing” from prior material. At one point, not so surprisingly, we find out that the big bad ex-Shadowhunter is … wait for it …
Darth Vader Clary’s dad! Oh, and that pale blond kid Clary’s been making out with? Well, he might be her brother. *AWKWARD* Now where I have I seen these scenarios before … oh yeah, that’s right, I’ve absolutely already seen the Star Wars franchise. It’s when you start messing with George Lucas that I worry in a litigious sense for author Cassandra Clare in terms of all these “coincidences” from pop culture films that all happened prior to the 2007 release of the first book in the series.
In any case, if you haven’t figured it out, I’m not a big fan of this movie. Myself, and a few critics near me, spent the last half with the giggles, constantly flabbergasted at just how hokey the dialogue and plot progression kept getting. This has some of the most unintended comedy in a movie all year. And this is all despite the fact that I actually was fine with about the first half of things. Aside from thinking Jonathan Rhys Meyers has any business playing a villain, the casting department found people who can generally act (though Robert Sheehan seemed to be doing a Jay Baruchel impression for 95% of the time he was on-screen).
I’m starting to just ramble on so I’ll boil this one down. I don’t need to see a sequel. I don’t want to see a sequel. However, I’m going to be monumentally, epically, and just all-around bummed if this movie makes anywhere near as much money as The World’s End, also opening this weekend. One movie is smartly written, well directed, features good actors, and is worth seeing multiple times. The other is The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. And considering this whole movie amounts to a search for a de facto Holy Grail, I’ve really only got one thing to say to people who buy tickets to it: You have chosen … poorly.
P.S. If you want to make this review interactive, try imbibing a favored beverage for each element I’ve highlighted in another color. I sure wish I had a similar option when I watched the movie.
The Mortal Instruments opened in theaters on August 20, 2013 and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action, and some suggestive content.
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