City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments)
Like most of my movie reviews, this one is written for readers of the book. In this case, I’m neither a great fan nor a determined attacker of the source material. I’ve read the first book in the Mortal Instruments series, the one this movie is based on, and enjoyed it, but the way the ending falls apart has prevented me from working up the enthusiasm to read the rest just yet, so forgive me if I misunderstand any bits of later canon this movie brings in early.
You can read my B- review of the book here.
Clary develops the ability to see a hidden magic world of demons and Shadowhunters. When her mother is kidnapped, she has to cooperate with these Shadowhunters to get her back.
The movie starts out as a decent translation of the book with a few improvements. Some backstory is introduced earlier, giving hope that the end exposition might not end up as one long, dragging clump, and Clary gets to witness her first demon slaying across a crowded room instead of following the Shadowhunters she assumes to be murderers away on her own to threaten them.
Lilly Collins’ performance as Clary is a pleasant surprise. The trailers present her as even more bland and irritating than Clary is in the book, but she plays the material she’s given as naturally and convincingly as possible.
There are also a couple of cool action moments (Jace punching Valentine through the portal was a personal favorite).
Everything else that was wrong with the book, and then some.
One of the biggest problems with the book is how generic and derivative it feels. I’ll be the first to agree that there are no truly new ideas, that the value of new art is primarily in the execution, but City of Bones never quite manages to contribute any extra personal flourish to its tropes at all. It executes them well, however, if in a generic sort of way, so that can be allowed to slide somewhat.
The movie, on the other hand, does the exact opposite of executing its tropes well and seems to be actively trying to be as generic and derivative as possible. The sets of the Institute where Shadowhunters operate are glaringly precise reconstructions of the sets of Hogwarts, as if the filmmakers are doing their very best to remind everyone that Cassandra Clare got her start in fanfic.
The two love interests, Jace and Simon, who were only annoyingly archetypal while otherwise likeable in the book, are flat-out annoying for most of the movie, all the competently constructed moments and dialogue between them and Clary lazily reduced to the simplest, most nauseatingly cliché common denominators.
Then there’s the other biggest problem with the book, the long, complicated backstory that ends up being treated as more important than the story itself. The hope that the opening of the movie offers that the backstory might be distributed better than in the book is dashed the moment the big bad guy, Valentine, shows up and starts babbling about things that take much more time and effort to understand than their relevance to the current action can justify.
As in the book, the last thirty percent or so of the movie is spent with the main characters pushed off to the side of battles and monologues of inadequately conveyed importance, burning quickly through the patience stockpiled by, in the case of the movie, camp value rather than competence.
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