The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones has plenty of action set-pieces & some excellent special effects, as well as the delightful Lily Collins front & centre, but it’s still a dull, uninteresting bore.
Based on the worldwide best-selling book series by Cassandra Clare, a seemingly ordinary teenager, Clary Fray (Lily Collins), discovers she is the descendant of a line of Shadowhunters, a secret cadre of young half-angel warriors locked in an ancient battle to protect our world from demons, led by a rogue Shadowhunter (Jonathan Ryhs Meyers).
After the disappearance of her mother (Lena Headey), Clary must join forces with a group of Shadowhunters, who introduce her to a dangerous alternate New York called Downworld, filled with demons, warlocks, vampires, werewolves and other deadly creatures. Like Twilight and The Hunger Games, expectations were set for this brand new franchise and the trailer looked promising. The film is set up to fill the Twilight gap with post Buffy-esque teen-romance, an established mythology from the source novels, and the fact there’s a colon in the title means that there’s more of these films to follow with the sequel, City of Ashes, currently in development. But ultimately, it is very disappointing.
However, when Beautiful Creatures first came out, it did succeed in filling that void that was left after the Twilight series. It was smart, funny, intelligent, and really moving, yet it didn’t work for the audience and it ended up taking no money at all sadly. In the case of this, there are reasons why it doesn’t work for me and with the audience. Firstly, it is way too long, stretching at two hours and ten minutes where it should’ve been a hundred minutes at best. Beautiful Creatures may have been two hours, but that had a narrative that was much better told, and that leads into the main reason The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones doesn’t work. It spends way too much time on the mythology and the backstory, and not on the relationships between the main characters, and that is the key mistake. There are many of these Twilight-esque tales, like The Host and TV’s The Vampire Diaries, where there’s centrally a love-triangle whilst all the fantastical stuff happens around them. But in the case of this, every single character walks on screen and ends up playing the part of “Basil Exposition”. They spend so much time explaining about the world in which they live in and saying what different races are and who the characters were, that it ends playing like the opening screen at the beginning of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. You end up not caring at all and the interactions between the characters don’t have the romantic allure that they should have had.
What you essentially have is a bunch of people that paint symbols on themselves with Sonic Screwdrivers and walk around in goth clothes all day, looking like as if was directed by Joel Schumacher, the man who sunk the Batman franchise with Batman & Robin. People may have made that criticism with the Twilight Saga, particularly in the finale Breaking Dawn Part 2 where they look as if they’ve spent ages making themselves look presentable for the final battle, but yet I still cared about them. There is some redeeming features: the visuals are arresting to a certain extent, the special effects are nicely done and Lily Collins is exceptional, more so than Twilight’s Kristen Stewart, but even those elements still don’t add up to very much. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones gets very uninteresting with its exposition and even with its revelations that should leave you thinking “This is very intriguing!” and “How are these relationships going to work out?”, you leave thinking “How much longer are they going to keep talking about this stuff?”. So, even with all its action-packed set-pieces and mesmerising special effects, it is in the end very boring and dull. If you are not interested in spending over two hours watching a superfluidity of plot and absence of any character engagement, then you are not going to engage with one of the biggest disappointments of 2013.