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The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones Review

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Reviewed by Samuel Rahaman

Many critics have already panned City of Bones, labelling it as “the next Twilight”. Directed by Harold Zwartz (who previously helmed the reimagining of The Karate Kid) and based on the bestselling novels by fantasy author Cassandra Clare, the film does share a few comparisons to Twilight – it features a vast array of supernatural characters such as Vampires and Werewolves. However, I feel the critics have been quite unfair; whilst the film does have a lot of flaws, in particular the poor writing and the bland direction; the film is supported by a terrific cast who can actually act and all deliver some fantastic performances. But perhaps the main difference to this and Meyer’s vampire saga is that City of Bones has lots of potential.

The film throws you right into the action as Clary Fray (Lilly Collins), a seemingly ordinary girl from New York, begins seeing strange symbols and people that no one else can see. Her whole life is thrown into turmoil when her overprotective mother, Jocelyn (Lena Headey), disappears after being attacked by a murderous, rampaging demon. Along with her best friend Simon Lewis (Robert Sheehan), who just so happens to have an unrequited crush on her, Clary seeks help from a mysterious, handsome stranger Jace (Jamie Campbell-Bower) and his band of demon hunting friends. It is here Clary learns that, like her mother, she belongs to a warrior race known as the Shadowhunters who are tasked with protecting the world from evil, demonic creatures. Flung into a world she never dreamed possible, Clary must go on quest to find the Mortal Cup, a magical object, which in the wrong hands could unleash the forces of hell and lead the world to destruction.

First off, the film does have its good points which sets it above movie adaptations like Twilight; mainly the acting is actually quite decent here with the whole cast delivering admirable performances. Lily Collins brings a lot of emotional gravitas to her role, and portrays Clary as a strong-willed female who can stand up and fight for herself; and unlike other fantasy heroine’s before her *Cough* Bella *Cough*, Clary does not spend the entirety of the film going moon-eyed over the attractive elusive stranger and instead is unwavering in her mission to search for her mother – though of course the film does include a few obligatory kissing scenes. Similarly Jamie Campbell-Bower and Robert Sheehan inject a lot of much needed humour into the film with their roles as Jace and Simon – who are both vying for the affections of our leading lady. They have a great rapport and bounce off of each other brilliantly with sharp and witty one-liners.

Having said this, it is the older cast members who really excel in their roles. Lena Headey (who people may recognise from popular TV franchise Game of Thrones) obviously relishes her role as Jocelyn Fray, who I have to say, is one badass woman, and completely steals the show. Perhaps one of the most entertaining sequences in the entire film is when you see Jocelyn take on her captors, throwing them into bookshelves, smashing their faces with a frying pan, and bashing their heads repeatedly with a fridge door – the whole thing is just brilliant, and will bring the house down (as it did in my screening).

That is, I’m afraid, where all the good points come to an end. The writing and dialogue is just a complete mess; with some frankly terrible, cheesy dialogue and overly predictable sequences being thrown into the mix by screenwriter Jessica Paquette. Perhaps one the most laughable and cringe-worthiest sequences in the film is the greenhouse scene involving Jace and Clary. Here you witness some ridiculous, magical floating orbs, as they are surrounded by wild and beautiful flowers, whilst they walk up a random spiral staircase. When you add in the accompanying pop music, and some kissing in the rain (where did the rain come from when they’re covered by a glass roof?), the whole thing just reeks of cheese.

Furthermore too much focus has been put on the expository sequences, with so much of the film’s screen-time going on introducing the world and the mythology to the audience, instead of focusing on the characters, their backstories, their motivations and their goals, which were the crux of the novels. The Harry Potter franchise was successful due to the balance between the many details of the books mythology and the character development, with this film however one has been left in favour of the other. What’s annoying is that some of the most interesting elements of the plot are left to the side lines and forgotten about. Though having read the books, I am hopeful that these elements will be picked up and explored in greater depth in the later films, and have some form of payoff – there are five other instalments in the book series, and an adaptation of the second has recently been announced by Screen Gems.

The directing from Zwartz can sometimes feel bland and uninspired; he doesn’t really leave a lasting impression. Although, having said that, one of his most impressive sequences is the scene inside the vampire’s hideout at the Hotel Dumort where you see the vampires walking across the ceiling towards our main characters – it’s quite chilling; however most of the time his direction is fairly simplistic. Furthermore, another scene involves an old church being revealed to be the grand, cathedral like Institute where the Shadowhunters reside; this could have been a magnificent scene except it just feels like a carbon copy of Hogwarts (the doors even lock the same way!)

It’s safe to say then that the film’s target audiences are the fans of the book series and, of course teenage girls, and they will undoubtedly be left impressed with what they are given. However those who are new to the series and have never even read the books, I fear will have no clue what is going on, as most of the film’s most important information (like the importance of the Mortal Cup) isn’t even revealed, and is only given a fleeting mention.

The film sadly ends up on the pile of the other unsuccessful book to film adaptations. However I wouldn’t say the series is completely doomed. With the sequel beginning production in September the writers have a chance to work on the film’s flaws, and now that the world is introduced they have time to work on the characters and turn the film series around – there is still a lot of potential for the series to be a success.

Final Rating: 5/10

  • Lights

    Great review here!

    It’s a shame the film doesn’t sound that great. However you’ve done a good job selecting what worked and what didn’t…

    Well done!

  • Ben Roberts

    This site always seems to give negative reviews to films I have otherwise seen good reviews for…not that it’s a bad thing, it’s an opinion after all! :)

    • http://cultfix.co.uk/the-mortal-instruments-city-of-bones-review-23589.htm TardisBoy

      Well this film has been given negative reviews wherever you look – I’d say its been almost universal negative reviews. If you read my review I am actually kinder than most critics have been. Most people have given it 1 star and said there are no redeeming features. I enjoyed the film and there a lot of good points, but there’s no denying that it could have been better and the negatives outnumber the positives. :)

      • Ben Roberts

        No offence, but where have you been looking? (I haven’t seen it myself so I can’t judge myself) Everyone I have spoken to have said it’s amazing, and it’s got a lot of positive stuff on IMDb last time I checked. I’m not attacking you or anything, just saying a lot of writers on here are much harsher than other places

        • http://cultfix.co.uk/the-mortal-instruments-city-of-bones-review-23589.htm TardisBoy

          I have been looking at the actual film reviews of established film sites (IMDb is not a site I trust or use). You can even look at the general consensus on Rotten Tomatoes (Which takes all reviews that have been posted about the film across the internet), it has an appreciation Index of 14% – which basically means it has flopped. I can assure you right now; I know what I am talking about. I did lots of research into this before, and after going to see this film. The film has not performed well critically or financially. Your friends may have enjoyed it, but they only form one tiny fraction of the overall opinion of the film.

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