The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
(SPOILERS) This might be the least glorious of the endless line of Young Adult fiction adaptations of late. Which is saying something, given their at best modest merits. Adapted from the first of Cassandra Clare’s fantasy series (of six), The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones sports a mish-mash of familiar destiny-based and more-than-human tropes, without ever once crossing into anything distinctive and individual in its own right. The at once over-portentous and underwhelming title says it all.
Tangentially, the subtitle also evokes memories of one of the Marvel Star Wars comics. Death in the City of Bone found the post-Empire Strikes Back rebels on the trail of Han Solo and encountering Mandalorian warriors (a much more interesting backstory for Boba Fett than the prequel trilogy came up with) and assorted bounty hunters (Dengar, Bossk). I digress, but I don’t think I can really be blamed.
Lily Collins, she of Phil’s loins and the enormous eyebrows, is Clary, who discovers the world she assumed to exist holds so much else besides when she begins seeing a strange symbol and feels the urge to draw it everywhere (this rune-obsession is about as memorable as the picture gets) Before long, she and dweeby best friend Simon (Misfits’ Robert Sheehan) are introduced to demon-slaying half-angel Shadowhunters (or Nephilim; let’s put it this way, neither Clare and screenwriter Jessica Postigo Paquette nor David Aronofsky make the most of mythic possibilities of the Biblical moniker) and an ex- of their kind who is after a special cup. Along the way, we meet witches, werewolves, vampires and… not an ounce of the wit or verve that Joss Whedon brought to Buffy (which is where the current form of the supernatural teen genre really begins) or even a sliver of the mopey introspection that fuelled the Twilight series.
This is basically a mixture of Buffy elements (nerdy best friend who secretly loves the oblivious/disinterested heroine, enough creatures for a whole season of that show, an English professor/mentor, a blonde haired British bad boy), Twilight (love triangle) and, weirdly, Star Wars (the is-it-or-isn’t-it incest between possible brother and sister – given that this seems intentional rather than the result of a rethink, it’s remarkably tepid stuff – and the long lost parent as uber-villain). There’s also a werewolf (played by the vampire from Being Human, Aiden Turner). The teen angst bullshit is by way of Lost Boys leathers; in fact everything looks wholly generic and appropriated. It should be little surprise that Harald Zwart, the guy behind Pink Panther 2 and The Karate Kid remake called the shots. I say called, but this bears all the signs of a movie (what there is of it) accumulated in the editing suite. Zwart seems to have little idea how to work in the widescreen format; there’s an absence of clear framing and staging, and when he’s in doubt he decides to place an emotional power ballad high in the mix, in the hope that uplift will carry him through.
His casting abilities are mostly bereft. Collins is no more of the next big thing than she was in Mirror Mirror. He’s picked two of the most preening and pouty English actors around, who just happen to be significantly short on real charisma, in Jamie Campbell Bower (really struggling with the rebel bravado) and Jonathan Rhys Meyers (he gets a lot of villain parts, so he really should have learnt how to play them by now). Some of the supporting players might have lent a bit of gravitas if the whole production wasn’t so choppy and shapeless. Jared Harris is always great, and threatens to bring a tortured soul to the proceedings (there’s an interesting idea that his curse of agoraphobia may be a product of his imagination but either it isn’t followed through or I’d lost interest by the time it was paid off). C. C. H. Pounder effortlessly dares anyone sharing a scene with her to rise to the challenge (no one can). Kevin Durand enjoys himself as a blockhead minion of Meyers. There’s also Lena Headey as Clary’s mum; one suddenly remembers she can play sympathetic characters.
Obviously the producers wanted sequels, and even with my faltering level of interest I could tell numerous threads are left unexplored. This seems more glaring than in some of the other doomed franchise-starters from last year (The Host, Beautiful Creatures) and the yen of the makers to get going on another caused them to get a little ahead of themselves, announcing a sequel (featuring Sigourney Weaver) before the receipts have even been counted on a movie few went to see and even fewer held in any regard. If the sums somehow make sense at some point (it’s difficult to see how, unless it sold a lot of rentals and made a bundle from TV rights) their best shot is to ditch Zwart and half the cast. Actually, scratch that. It’s yet another series that probably should have found a home on TV but, while there’s a chance that the next property might be a Hunger Games, they’ll keep on opting for big screen first.