Seemingly cobbled together like Frankenstein’s monster from bits of Harry Potter, Twilight and Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the latest supernatural teen-adventure romance, Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. Based on the first book in the series of popular novels by Cassandra Clare, this adaptation is, despite expensive and elaborate production design and a multitude of action sequences, strangely dull and uninvolving.
Lily Collins plays Clary Fray, the mandatory cute, feisty but emotionally brittle teen heroine. Her relatively normal adolescent life takes a bizarre turn when she begins seeing an odd diamond-shaped symbol wherever she goes and observes strange events including murders that no one else seems to notice. It’s soon revealed that she is witnessing supernatural events and that the apparent murderers are people known as Shadowhunters whose job is to slay marauding demons. Clary has a previously unknown connection to this world and latent supernatural abilities which see her become a target for demons. When her mother (Lena Hedley) is kidnapped, Clary and her geeky friend Simon (Robert Sheahan) join the Shadowhunters in the hope of finding her. The Shadow Hunters leader Hodge (Jared Harris) also reveals that Clary may hold the key to recovering one of the fabled mortal instruments, a mysterious cup that evokes powerful and potentially dangerous magic.
Despite the film spending an inordinate amount of time unspooling Mortal Instruments’ convoluted mythology, the story remains (at least for the uninitiated) painfully muddled. With good Shadow Hunters, evil rogue Shadow Hunters, vampires, demons, werewolves and faeries all colliding, it’s difficult to know who is battling who or what anyone is trying to achieve. It doesn’t help that the countless fight scenes between these myriad creatures are filmed in the confusing, borderline-incoherent wobble-cam technique and stuffed with CGI effects that vary from thrillingly realistic to laughably unconvincing. To add to the confusion the film makes odd tonal shifts from screwball comedy to po-faced mythical adventure to gross-out horror.
More disturbingly, though, this film (or more accurately the story on which it is based) is astonishingly derivative. Aspects of the mythology recall Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, characters seem to have been plucked from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there’s a woman wielding a flame-thrower just like in Aliens and a major plot point comes straight out of Star Wars. The intended teen and young adult audience may not notice these glaring similarities to previous films and TV shows but anyone over 25 will be gobsmacked by them.
Ahead of clever, original mythologies and credible action, though, audiences for this type of film want romantic fantasies. Consequently, there are numerous scenes of Clary locking lips with Shadow Hunter Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) who, like the other Shadowhunters, is a skinny supermodel covered in squiggly tatts. It’s unlikely, though, that even die hard fans of the novel will buy the cheesy and at times cringe worthy romantic scenes in this film which at one point see the pair making out in a secret garden while flowers spontaneously bloom all around them.
With its cornball romantic scenes, stodgy dialogue, unsatisfying battle sequences and waffle about runes, the film grinds to a halt before resuscitating itself for a moderately rousing finale. Along the way it touches on some interesting ideas about adolescents trying to find an identity but doesn’t explore these issues satisfactorily. For example, the unveiling of Clary’s repressed powers and memories should have been confronting and emotional but it’s handled in a perfunctory fashion.
As Clary, Lily Collins has an innocent charm but lacks the charisma and emotional depth that an actor like Jennifer Lawrence brings to the young heroine roles she plays. Rob Sheahan as Simon is at first an ebullient comedy relief character in the vein of Zander from Buffy the Vampire Slayer but after some amusing early scenes he’s shunted into the background. Jamie Campbell Bower, who looks like a younger catwalk-ready version of Paul Bettany is at times, amusingly suave and droll but doesn’t convince as an action hero.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is not only disturbingly familiar but at over two hours, it’s a slog for those not already enamoured of the novels.
Nick’s rating: Two stars.
Director(s): Harald Zwart.
Release date: 22nd Aug 2013
Running time: 130 mins.
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