Now in theaters, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, based on Cassandra Clare’s New York Times bestselling novel, joins the pantheon of Young Adult fantasy series to hit the big screen and inevitably leave millions of fans underwhelmed.
I’ll admit that I haven’t read The Mortal Instruments series and went into the movie with just the information from the trailer. Adaptations of huge series like this — that have their own worlds and rules — offer a unique mountain to climb. Filmmakers want to make the film as loyal to the book and leave as little out as possible (to appease the mega fans), but they also need to make it understandable to those who haven’t read the book (because, yes, we do exist). Although a few favorite series of mine (Harry Potter, The Hunger Games) have made successful transitions to the screen, I realize that, as a fan, I may be more forgiving (or simply unaware) of confusing parts because I have that source material mentally filed away to fill in the blanks. That said, a film adaptation needs to stand on its own and should never rely on or assume the audience has previous knowledge of the story.
As a non-fan of City of Bones, the first in the ongoing fantasy series, the movie was understandable … enough. Clary Fray (Lily Collins) finds out that she is descended from a race of demon-fighting Shadowhunters after her mother, Jocelyn (Lena Headey), is kidnapped. Fray’s taken in by the few Shadowhunters that are left and introduced to the Downworld — where the likes of demons, vampires, and werewolves exist disguised from the mundane world. In order to save her mother, Clary must find The Mortal Cup, which her mother stole from a man named Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) years earlier. And, of course, a fantasy YA novel wouldn’t be complete without a love triangle — while Clary grows close to the mysterious and snarky Shadowhunter, Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), her best friend and wannabe boyfriend, Simon (Robert Sheehan), is left to watch and cry in the corner.
After that the details get a little foggy. It seems to be a classic case of trying to fit too much into a (relatively) short run time. While the film throws a lot of information at you — mostly via exposition and flashbacks — there are a lot of little details that are introduced and then completely ignored. At one point, the camera pointedly focuses on a vampire bite on one of the character’s necks and then it’s never mentioned again. Granted, I did learn that this detail resurfaces in the next book, but like I said, the filmmakers can’t rely on the audience knowing that.
The romance, which takes up a good portion of the middle of the film, is so trite that I couldn’t even get into that. Besides the fact that the Jace and Clary have no chemistry, I’m just tired of love triangles. At this point it’s laughably unoriginal. The relationship between Clary and Jace in particular is cheesy as hell. For their first kiss, not only are they having a birthday picnic in a magical garden, she trips into his arms going down a winding staircase and then the sprinklers go off. It’s almost like the writers were trying to include as many clichés as possible.
The only bright spot in that whole subplot is Robert Sheehan, who easily gives the best performance in the movie. Not only does he deliver the only successful laughs in the film, he conveys real, unforced emotion. As much as it pains me to admit it, the moment when he finally declares his love for Clary was the only part that elicited any emotion from me.
By the end, a whole bunch of shit goes down and the final act is all over the place. There are a couple twists, one of which I saw coming early on and another that was a strange combination of fucked up and awkward. Although there are elements that are genuinely cool, they just made me wish I was reading the book instead of watching a subpar adaptation of it.