Ever since the first trailer for The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones exceeded my expectations last November, I have been waiting to see if the film was worth the anticipation. The film is based on the first book in The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare.
The film deals with the world of Shadowhunters, a race of demon fighters that you can only be born into unless you have the Mortal Cup. They also go toe to toe with other Downworlders like vampires and werewolves. Clary Fray (Lily Collins) is oblivious that this other world even exists even though she is one. She does not start to put things together in her mind until she sees three Shadowhunters kill a demon in a club. You see, only those who know of Shadowhunters can see them. The three Shadowhunters are as shocked as Clary that she can see them. This is where Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), Isabelle (Jemima West), and Alec (Kevin Zegers) enter the picture. Only after Clary’s mom (Lena Headey) is attacked and kidnapped does Clary really enter the Shadowhunter world and their protection. The one object that drives the story is the Mortal Cup, and Clary’s mom has it.
The whole story of Shadowhunters is complicated; how they exist, how they protect themselves, how they operate. Here lies the biggest problem with adapting The City of Bones. There is so much background and legend that a two hour film could not cover it all. Those who have read the book will have a much better understanding of what is going on in the film than those who go into it blind. The film does a poor job of explaining runes (the tattoo-like drawings on the Shadowhunters), their weapons, and the hierarchy. Just showing them on screen explains nothing.
This is not Twilight, yet City of Bones continues the trend of YA films using of corny lines. Please for the love of Pete, please stop using lines like “I’d never seen an angel until now.” They might sound good in our head while reading a book, but they never translate well to screen. It makes me and everyone else cringe. Furthermore, the film uses some soundtrack songs that are just all wrong for the scene. There is a really good score by Atli Örvarsson, and his score is all the film needed, not Demi Lovato.
There are plenty of great scenes that went far beyond what I was expecting to see. There is plenty of action in the last third of the film. There is quite a fight between a few Shadowhunters and a horde of vampires. Jamie Campbell Bower has a pretty kick-ass duel with Jonathan Rhys Meyers who plays the Shadowhunter, Valentine. Also, flamethrowers never looked so good than when Jemima West uses it to vanquish some invading demons. If you happen to be the poor sap that gets dragged to this on a date, there is plenty to enjoy in the last act.
One person stole every scene he is in, Robert Sheehan. Known for his role on the UK show, Misfits, Sheehan inhabited all of Simon’s quirky and comical nature. Simon is Clary’s mundane (human) best friend who wants to be more. Simon is able to become a trusted friend to the Shadowhunters, but being a mundane makes him have to stand behind a couple of girls in sticky situations. He is the comic relief of the film.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is better than I expected it to be coming from a YA book. However, I have a feeling that those who have not read the book will leave the film scratching their heads. There is too much Shadowhunter knowledge that is not explained. The film also pulls some elements from the other Mortal Instruments books, and either skips ahead or tries to look forward to the next film. Like every book adaptation, pieces of the book are changed or left out. That is the pitfall of reading the book beforehand; you know how it is supposed to be. However, the film version does not change any major elements that would affect future installments. I am sure the teens will swoon over the Jace and Clary relationship that takes an interesting turn, but I simply could not get past Jamie Campbell Bower’s weird styling relationship with his hair. All in all, City of Bones ends up being a pretty good YA adaptation film with some great actors, supernatural settings, and satisfying fight scenes.
I give The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones 3.5 out of 5.
P.S. If I could change one thing, it would be how the runes are depicted on Shadowhunters. In the book, they are described as silvery scars as they fade. This effect would have looked more impressive, but I am sure would have taken more time in the makeup trailer to pull off. The one defining physical characteristic of a Shadowhunter is lost to a bad, large, temporary tattoo.
by Sarah Ksiazek