The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones Movie Review
Fans of Cassandra Clare's book series won't mind that this film is overcrowded and chaotic, but the uninitiated will be worn out by what feels like a superficial mash-up of leather-clad stereotypes. Director Zwart (who remade The Karate Kid) certainly creates a lively sense of energy, zipping through each scene as if he's trying to cram every moment in the book into two hours. But as a result, nothing grabs hold.
Our hero is Clary (Collins), a New York teen whose mother (Headey) never told her that she was a Shadowhunter, a half-angel whose job is to protect humanity from demons. But just as she meets goth dreamboat Shadowhunter Jace (Campbell Bower), her mom is kidnapped. So she and her best pal Simon (Sheehan), who has a secret crush on her, travel with Jace into the city's underworld of angels, demons, werewolves and vampires. At the secret Shadowhunter headquarters, she meets leader Hodge (Harris) as well as siblings Alec and Isabelle (Zegers and West). And everyone warns her about the villainous Valentine (Meyers), who has some sort of nefarious master plan involving Clary and her magical cup.
The film is structured as a series of quests, as Clary learns about her supernatural abilities by visiting the City of Bones under a cemetery, breaking into a church to collect a stash of demon-fighting weapons, consulting with a variety of magical creatures, and so on. But these individual sequences never quite connect together into a story with any momentum. It's simply impossible to get involved in these events without being able to identify with the characters, none of whom are properly developed. Obviously, readers of the books won't have this problem, but such a fragmented film is unlikely to draw new fans to the franchise.
There's also the problem that nothing feels remotely original. Aside from the clear Twilight parallels, the plot has elements lifted from vintage 1980s movies like Pretty in Pink (the pining nerd), The Empire Strikes Back (the twisted family connections) and Stargate (the spatial portal). All of this plays out with the likeable cast wearing corny leather bondage gear while using special powers that don't seem very exciting. And some characters (such as Alex and Isabelle) never register at all; they'll probably be more important in future episodes. Which frankly makes this material more suited to a TV series than a movie franchise. Although even there, it would feel like a True Blood knock-off.