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Review: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)

Directed by: Harald Zwart

Premise: An adaptation of the first book in the young adult fantasy series by Cassandra Clare. A young woman (Lilly Collins) discovers that she is descended from a line of supernatural warriors who fight demons.

What Works: The one thing that distinguishes The Mortal Instruments from other adaptations of young adult fantasy books is the film’s sense of humor. Movies like Twilight, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, and the later entries in the Harry Potter series lack a sense of humor and were often unnecessarily somber and self-important. At its best, the filmmakers of The Mortal Instruments have fun with the absurd material and manage to insert a fair amount of laughs. The actors do an admirable job with the material they have to work with, especially Lilly Collins as the heroine and Jamie Campbell Bower as a demon slayer. Collins and Bower seem like competent actors but there’s not much they can do to save the movie.

What Doesn’t: Ever since the popularity of the Harry Potter series hit its peak there has been a rash of adaptations of young adult fantasy books. With a few exceptions (Bridge to Terabithia) most of these have ranged from mediocre (Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief) to downright awful (The Host). The Mortal Instruments isn’t a terrible movie but it isn’t very good either. Nothing about this film is involving or interesting and it is frequently boring. The cast is made of bland characters. Like a lot of teenage fantasy movies, everyone looks like they belong an Abercrombie & Fitch advertisement; they are all too pretty with their hair impeccably groomed and their clothing plucked from a fashion catalog. Successful fantasy stories create engaging characters who viewers want to spend time with and whose adventures they will enjoy watching and re-watching but the characters of The Mortal Instruments have no humanity. There is none of the fallibility or vulnerability of Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker. No one has any depth and everyone carries on talking in obtuse, expository dialogue that spells out the plot and the backstory. Clary, the heroine of the movie played by Lilly Collins, is less Princess Leia of Star Wars or Merida of Brave and much more Bella of Twilight. She rarely acts with any volition and is often led around by the male characters. Apparently every teenage fantasy with a female lead is required to include a love triangle and the filmmakers of The Mortal Instruments attempt to engineer one between Clary and two male characters but this prospective romance has no heat. Making matters worse, The Mortal Instruments blatantly rips off the reveals of both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi but with nowhere near the pay off and with even more awkwardness. The Mortal Instruments also suffers from the “crystal skull problem.” Like a lot of fantasy adventures, the movie is a race to recover a sacred object, usually referred to in screenwriting parlance as the MacGuffin. The MacGuffin must be of some importance, as in Raiders of the Lost Ark where the Ark of the Covenant is said to possess godly powers. The MacGuffin of The Mortal Instruments is lame and there is no reason for the audience to care who ends up with it. That means the story is a quest by boring people for an uninteresting object. When the movie finally gets to its obligatory showdown there is a lot of fighting and special effects but it is unclear what anyone is fighting for.

Bottom Line: The Mortal Instruments is another failed attempt to launch a film franchise from a young adult fantasy series. Whatever potential the books may have had is wasted in a film that does nothing interesting and is often boring.

Episode: #454 (September 1, 2013)