‘The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones’: Teen fantasy doesn’t fly
A review of “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,” a forgettable fantasy film about a teenage girl (Lily Collins) who discovers she is half-angel.
Special to The Seattle Times
‘The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,’ with Lily Collins, Lena Headey, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan, Jared Harris. Directed by Harald Zwart, from a screenplay by Jessica Postigo, based on a novel by Cassandra Clare. 130 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action, and some suggestive content. Several theaters.
In “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,” the word “mundane” is used to refer to human beings who lack supernatural or divine powers.
It’s also a pretty apt description of the film itself, which is so derivative of Joss Whedon, George Lucas, J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer that it feels like a postmodern young-adult mishmash.
Imagine Whedon’s Buffy coping with demons, vampires and werewolves while taking refuge in a Hogwarts-like boarding school; discovering her unwanted tie to a Darth Vader-like villain; then feeling conflicted about two potential lovers — one a budding bloodsucker — and you get the idea.
No doubt many fans of author Cassandra Clare’s 2007 “The Mortal Instruments” novel (followed by multiple sequels), upon which this complicated movie is based, would argue that “City of Bones” is an original story within the conventions of contemporary fantasy for young readers.
Maybe so. But the film adaptation is one long (more than two hours) genre anticlimax. Been there, done all that.
Lily Collins stars as Clary, a New York City teenager whose mother, Jocelyn (Lena Headey), has kept secret her daughter’s special gifts as a Shadowhunter, i.e., a half-angelic warrior. When Jocelyn is attacked by demons sent by her tyrannical ex-husband, Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) — a Shadowhunter gone to the dark side — Clary learns who she really is and springs into action.
Dragging along best friend Simon (Robert Sheehan) — an endearing mundane — while swooning over a leather-clad, fearless ally in Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower, a veteran of both the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” film series), Clary gets caught up in one battle after another trying to retrieve a magic cup and save her mom.
“City of Bones” is so overwhelmed by CGI effects that it amounts to white noise for the eyes. Far worse is the way director Harald Zwart (2010’s “The Karate Kid”) can’t establish a mature tone to support some of the story’s genuinely bold and challenging elements, especially a forbidden-love theme that deserves a more serious context.
It’s hard to imagine a string of “Mortal Instruments” sequels coming to theaters in coming years. This first one is completely forgettable.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org