‘The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones’ Review

Published 1 year ago by , Updated November 9th, 2014 at 6:52 pm,

Lily Collins as Clary in The Mortal Instruments City of Bones The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones Review

The story and the movie are both sub-par, forgettable – and worst of all, crushingly boring by the end.

In The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones we are handed the revelation that the world we think we know exists on top of a supernatural plane in which the forces of good and evil are constantly at war. New York teenager Clary Fray (Lily Collins) lives a normal existence – that is, until her latest birthday reveals strange new powers like “the sight” – a mystery that turns into panic when Clary’s overprotective mother, Jocelyn (Lena Headey), goes missing.

While on the search for her mom, Clary is attacked by a fearsome demon – only to be saved by Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), a mysterious demon-hunter (“shadowhunter”) that only Clary seems to see. Jace reveals to Clary that she – like her mother –  is one of a select group of shadowhunters, tasked with protecting the world from demonic forces. With a dark threat rising, and her mother in peril, Clary, Jace, and their allies will wage warrior against a clandestine threat within the shadowhunter order, while searching for the powerful talisman known as The Mortal Cup, whose location only Jocelyn knows for sure.

Jamie Campbell Bower in The Mortal Instruments City of Bones The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones Review

The Young Adult movie genre has gotten something of a stigma since Twilight invaded the mainstream, and most moviegoers approach any film within that genre – specifically the YA supernatural sub-genre – with a very critical eye for quality storytelling over hokey romance fantasy and skewed supernatural mythology. I’m proud to report that despite having a very skilled cast of both younger and older actors doing it justice, the material propping up The Mortal Instruments is every YA genre skeptic’s nightmare, and the cinematic interpretation is such an overwrought, drab and cumbersome film that it’s not even a suitable popcorn-muncher to help pass the time.

At the helm is director Harald Zwart, who is best known for the 2010 Karate Kid reboot and his early 2000s film, Agent Cody BanksCity of Bones is an ugly movie (in no uncertain terms) that squanders so much potential. The blocking, framing, angles and mis-en-scene are poorly imagined and executed; the cinematography by Hollywood newcomer Geir Hartly Andreasen looks like someone’s grainy home video; and the director can’t seem to capture or realize any of the imaginativeness of the source material – ultimately resulting in a fantastical world that looks anything BUT fantastical.

The Mortal Instruments City of Bones Visual FX The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones Review

Zwart even manages to make his pretty leads just as often look awkward, grimy or otherwise unattractive – a rare feat in filmmaking. In terms of both action and (budgeted) visual effects, however, City of Bones is a definite step up from The Twilight Saga, offering a few sequences of genuinely exciting action and/or visual splendor.

To be fair, beyond the imaginative world and premise, there isn’t much good material for Zwart to work with. City of Bones screenplay writer Jessica Postigo tried to streamline the convoluted novel by Cassandra Clare, but still winds up with an overwrought story that has little emotional punch or payoff and a whole lot of awkwardness by the end. It starts as an intriguing enough mystery, evolves into a suitable second-act quest; however, some third-act “twists” just derail whatever narrative momentum the story manages to build, and muddles both the mythology and character relationships developed up to that point, leaving us with an awkward ending that doesn’t feel much like an ending so much as a chapter break.

Jamie Campbell Bower and Lilly Collins in The Mortal Instruments City of Bones The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones Review

Jamie Campbell Bower and Lilly Collins in ‘The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones’

This story also has more sappy romantic drama and soap opera-style love triangles than Twilight ever did, making it even more exhausting to endure. As this is both an adaptation and the opening chapter in a larger saga, there are many subplots, foreshadowings and other developments that the movie introduces but fails to explain or resolve – a detriment when set against the need for a film to tell a complete standalone story.

Too bad for the cast of actors in the crossfire, as they manage to do pretty well with their characters and the flimsy material they’re working with. Blind Side and Mirror Mirror star Lily Collins is overqualified for her role, bringing real gravitas and emotion to a performance that is ultimately doomed by the movie around it. Jamie Campbell Bower is sharp and witty as Jace, Clary’s newfound ally and love interest, and he and Collins have strong chemistry. Supporting players like Jace’s adopted siblings Alec (Kevin Zegers) and Isabelle (Jemima West) or Clary’s competing love interest, Simon (Robert Sheehan), are all interesting but ultimately shortchanged by a narrative that spreads itself way too thin in both focus and development.

Lena Headey in The Mortal Instruments City of Bones The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones Review

There is also a cast of well-known stars given bit parts to play (to varying fun or ridiculousness). Game of Thrones star Lena Headey; Mad Men star Jared Harris; Tudors star Jonathan Rhys Meyers; Being Human star Aidan Turner; Warehouse 13 star CCH Pounder and Lost star Kevin Durand are just a few of the quality character actors this film manages to (somehow) wrangle together. With the exception of Meyers, the veteran actors’ respective scenes certainly elevate the material where possible – but unfortunately, those scenes are few.

In the end, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is yet another would-be franchise trying (and quite likely failing) to fill the post-Twilight void. Even with a richer, darker, more action-packed premise; a more intriguing world; and a cast featuring some quality UK thespians with actual acting chops in the leads, there is just no denying that the story and the movie are both sub-par, forgettable – and worst of all, crushingly boring by the end. Bury this one under a city of bones, and tell the cast to seek more lively pastures.

517743693 cv1 620 439 The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones Review

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The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is now in theaters. It is 130 minutes and is rated PG-13 for Intense sequences of fantasy violence and action, and some suggestive content.

Our Rating:

1.5 out of 5
(Poor, A Few Good Parts)

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  1. I myself was a very big twilight fan and was devastated when it ended I saw this movie “Mortal Insturments – city of bones” a while back before I actually watched it ,and im very glad I did because its one of the best movies that I ever watched . to be honest its better then twilight

    • Agreed!

  2. I almost didn’t see this movie because of the bad reviews but I’m glad I did cause I very much enjoyed it. It’s a fun and entertaining movie who is different from the book in some ways, but that didn’t bother me. The cast was great, the pacing was better and the final bigger than in the book. We also got a lot more screentime for some of the characters while in the book we don’t get to see much of them.

    I’ve seen so many bad reviews complaining over things that makes you wonder if they even saw the movie or if they even know it’s the first Part of a trilogy. You get so many sheeps who just jump on the hate train for the sake of hating while they didn’t even watch the movie or assume they know it all while they don’t – just ook at this comment section.

    City of Bones reminded me more of a movie like Constantine with some bits of pieces of Buffy/Angel but certainly NOT Twilight! It’s not because something has a love story that’s it’s connected to Twilight.

    It’s a 4/5 for me. I had a lot of fun watching this.

  3. Just watched this. I can say that I agree with the review for the most part. I find I only disagree with the statement of Lily Collins being “overqualified”, she was the most annoying person in the movie. She for one, cannot act or she does not embody characters well. Collins seems more like she is playing dress up and pretending then actually being the character, that’s the main difference. If I cannot get involved emotionally with the character whether I hate them, love them or whatever then that’s the problem with the actor. I felt nothing for her and that’s what annoyed me. She was stupid, if the character is written that way then Collins was able to show that at least. She and Jamie Campbell Bower had no chemistry and it’s amazing to me that they’re possible together in real life?

    The movie was extremely silly, dark and nothing was resolved. Now, I know this is part of a bigger book franchise but I shouldn’t have to go and read the book(s) to know why stuff is happening, the movie should answer those questions at least to an extent in order for me to want to see more of the movies, especially if this does not get a sequel. The Hobbit: Unexpected Journey is the first film in a trilogy and though there are stones left undiscovered, the audience can actually follow each movie without having to go back and read the book in order to explain why something happened. This movie fails at that, I mean what was the purpose of the cup? Why were the vampires interested in her?? WHY did Clary feel the need to OUT Alec like that, she doesn’t even know the guy? Is Simon now a vampire? How are “mundanes” turned into vampires if he got bit? *sighs* Another Twilight Clone bites the dust. It may not be like Twilight but it follows the same formula.

  4. This movie was a huge disappointment. The actors were more than qualified and perfect for their roles, but the script and set was horrible. Keep the actors, but get a different director.

  5. I will say i loved this movie it has great potential i loved it and thought it was amusing and each actor captured the person they were playing. I thought it was really there and I’m a twilight fan and this was nothing like Twilight I was surprised. There are many books 5 and a 6 one coming so they could keep going if they do I’ll be front row seeing the debut at an amazing book turned movie. That and I had a big amazement with character Jace which well they gave that role to amazing actor Jamie. No rant just saying that the movie met my standards and well others may not see it, but they did a great job especially when it took what like 7 months to do the damn movie basically 1 year because it was released in august so they did a heck of a good job for me. I have the movie myself so I give it a A+++++ and what 5 stars

  6. The Movie is really good, But compared to the books is a let down. Vital scenes that needed to be involved were not and the ending of the movie was very different from the ending of the book. However I love most of the characters and how they portray the roles. Robert Sheehan as Simon, in my opinion was the most amazing choice. I love his comical side but also the sense of how much he cares for Clary. The worst casting choice, in my opinion was Valentine, he didn’t look like the character that is described in the book and wasn’t exactly The Evil cunning shadowhunter I imagined him to be. Granted, this is a bias review as I had high expectations by being a Huge Mortal Instruments book fan. But this movie is VERY GOOD and I cannot wait for the 2nd film, City of Ashes, to be released.

  7. As a big fan of the books, I can definitely say that I was disappointed in this movie. Not because it wasn’t word for word or EXACTLY like the books, but rather, because they left all the important little things out. (Even then, my opinion is still biased)

    They were so focused on all the big scenes, that there weren’t able to introduce very much of anything. If I hadn’t read the books, I would be SO lost. They fail to go into detail about certain important things. A little more background on Shadowhunters themselves – even Luke for that matter – could have made a difference.

    AND, they blew one of the best cliff hangers of the entire series! In the novels, Clary and Jace found out they were brother and sister at the end of the first novel. There was no indication to imply that they weren’t actually siblings. That’s what keeps it interesting! Keeps the viewers on the edges of their seats, wanting to find out more. Why on earth would you want to blow that?

    I think the script made some of the acting awkward, although, compared to other films, I didn’t find the acting that bad.
    With that being said! I am also disappointed in Valentines appearance. I think Jonathan Rhys Meyers did an amazing job portraying the roll… but what is up with that hair? Little random braids, really? And his clothes? I saw Valentine as a professional looking man! Dressed well, wasn’t runnign around like a mad man. Valentine went power crazy, he didn’t hang out in a hippie community. Just saying.

    A better script writer, a better director and better preparation would have made this movie a whole lot better.

    I’m hoping that they will hire a new director and writer. OR do what the Game of Thrones writers do and write the script with the Author of the novels! Now that’s an idea.

    Anyways, rant over!
    2.5 out of 5 for me!