22 August 2013 | moviexclusive
A loose, indulgent and oftentimes draggy adaptation reminiscent of Twilight: not recommended for non-fans and post-adolescents
Hot on the heels of movies based off bestselling young adult books such as the Twilight Saga and The Hunger Games comes the film adaptation of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, the first of six books in Cassandra Clare's urban fantasy series. The recipe is textbook: Expect a detailed chronology of the lives of nubile teenagers embroiled in the trappings of young love while seeking their identity and/or destiny; struggles with family demands and social awkwardness, and throw werewolves, warlocks, vampires and witches into the mix. The stars here, though, are Shadowhunters, a clan of demon-slaying angel-human hybrids with a penchant for leather jackets and skintight black attire.
In the centre of this universe is a teenage girl who, much like Twilight's Bella Swan, initially appears ordinary. A fresh-faced girl- next-door with an artistic streak, Clary Fray (Lily Collins) starts subconsciously recognising and drawing a rune that no one else, especially not her geeky best friend Simon (Robert Sheehan), seems to see. She witnesses and reacts to a demon killing, leading the Shadowhunters to realise that she isn't just a normal 'Mundane' human. One of them, the handsome blond Jace Lightwood (Jamie Campbell Bower), brings Clary into the fray, saving her life in the aftermath of her mother Jocelyn's (Lena Headey) disappearance after an attack at her home.
As Clary gets inducted into the Institute of Shadowhunters, she sets off on a search to uncover her past and locate her mother. The rules include trusting no one. Everyone, including a mysterious Shadowhunter named Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Myers), has got their eye on a cup that was previously under Jocelyn's care, a treasure rumoured to hold immense power.
The CG may be passable but the demons are commendably unsettling, in particular one of the first demons faced by Clary is a dog that transforms into something that is the stuff of nightmares. Yet this is all overshadowed by the ludicrous script, courtesy of first-time writer Jessica Postigo Paquette. Some of the most laughable revelations include that of a certain 18th-century German composer being credited for being a Shadowhunter who invented the art of using the piano as a demon-sensing instrument (although frankly this is one possible spin off that sounds like it has much potential).
Tightening the script and applying a more liberal hand at editing would have benefited City of Bones, considering how much the young actors flail at their main responsibility of emoting. Collins is passable in the lead role, likable but altogether vanilla. She lacks both the oddly engaging coldness of Kristen Stewart and the acting chops of Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, whose grounded performance in The Hunger Games' made Katniss somewhat relatable and minimally annoying. Bower is presented with some of the better lines in the movie, but fails to capitalize on it. Veterans Headey and Rhys Myers, who demonstrated skill at playing intense and complex characters in medieval settings on Game of Thrones and The Tudors respectively, are underused and relegated to making the best of their limited screen time and cringe-worthy dialogue. Meanwhile, Jared Harris plays a professor whose actions are utterly baffling.
There are elements that set certain young adult book series apart from their competition, separating stellar book / film franchises from mediocre ones. Unfortunately, it's not just about having a dark-haired 'ordinary' girl find out she has been inexplicably blessed with overwhelming power around the same time she meets the love of her life. J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, for instance, invested effort into characterisation and meaningful dialogue, fleshing out everyone's strengths and failings while ensuring real-world parallels can be easily drawn amidst a fantasy setting. City of Bones falls in with Twilight at the other end of the spectrum: not only do you have to suspend logic to accept the two-hour long story; you're given very little reason to care about it at all.