Movie Review: “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones”

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I know what you’re thinking: not ANOTHER one.

Not another series of candy-coated books filled with teenage love, covered in a fluff-like substance, and decorated with normally ferocious monsters, creatures and beasts that are subsequently tamed and transformed into submissive beings.

These stories, in which the supernatural world-meets-the real world (or any fantasy-based environment or situation), have been churned out in record numbers, slung into the Young Adult section of bookstores or any web site, for that matter, where your favorite works of fiction are sold.

After a few years of mounting book sales, web pages devoted to character worship and convoluted fan fiction, and, in some cases, merchandising – the next logical stop for authors is an obvious one.

Their books wind up on the big screen.

I’m here to let you know that you should have no fear. “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones”  does not follow in the footsteps of such mega-lame attempts to capture this genre on screen like “I am Number Four” and the recent “Beautiful Creatures.”

Instead, it follows in the footsteps of such mega-successful examples as the “Harry Potter,” “Twilight” and the “The Hunger Games” films, “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” (starring Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower and a slew of other ridiculously attractive young actors and actresses) is the latest in a long line of literary tales targeted towards the young adult crowd to hit the big screen.

And after what happened recently to “Percy Jackson & the Sea of Monsters” (a $90 million budget – compared to a fourth-place finish and $14 million, disappointing opening weekend), which was the last such film to hit the big screen to fit the young adult mold, it seems as if these film adaptations are anything but surefire hits.

Well, I can’t say that this film will be a box office success (it does have a head start on “Percy Jackson,” with its smaller, $60 million budget), but I can say that a large group of teenage girls, who sat a few seats down from me in the screening I attended, responded rather well to the rather lengthy (it checks in at 130 minutes) film.

And by “rather well,” I mean they screamed at a high-pitch clip during the surprisingly creepy action sequences and they swooned and sighed incessantly at the romantic endeavors of the film’s good-looking leads; Collins and Campbell Bower (who are allegedly a real-life item). If this group of exuberant adolescents is any indication

The cast of "The Mortal Instruments" City of Bones"

America’s Top Model Instruments.

regarding the film’s success – not to mention the 700 people that showed up to a local mall to meet both Collins and Campbell Bower (we’ll call him “JCB,” from now on) and the book’s author, Cassandra Clare during a promotional tour – there’s a whole nation of girls that should be lining up, as we speak, to get into the first showing. At least, if they can get a ride to theater from their parents, that is.

For those of you out there who aren’t a teenage girl and/or list “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” as numbers 1 and 1A at the top of your list of favorite movies, you might be pleasantly surprised at the entertainment value that “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” provides. I mean, it’s not going to zoom past “Fruitvale Station” or “The Way Way Back” as the best film of the summer, but it is a fresh and inventive take on the supernatural romance genre.

The best thing about the film is that it manages NOT to alienate anybody who’s simply there to see a good, stand-alone story and isn’t expecting to see part one of the “Edward and Bella Fight Some Demons” saga. In other words, you don’t have to be one of those teenyboppers, that I’ve mentioned so often, to like the movie.

It is, however, essential that you have the ability to suspend your disbelief, as there is no shortage of fantasy elements within the film’s storyline. In fact, there are so many rules of (supernatural) engagement, mystical knick-knacks, and groups/races of unnatural beings that moviegoers who are not used to this particular genre might find themselves lost in the tarot card shuffle.

For example, there is a scene, about halfway through the movie, which involves a witch. At first, she’s a good witch – who reads fortunes using a deck of hand-painted cards in order to assist the protagonists. Then without warning… well… let’s just say that she’s a

Jamie Campbell Bower and Lily Collins

Wow…umm… thanks. You got me a… umm… what is that? a lightning bug?

good witch no more. But, what do we categorize her as now? Is she still a witch? Or, a demon? Or, is she something else? The answer is never really provided for us. But I will say this, the makeup they used, to transform the witch from good to evil, helped make this scene the scariest moment of the film, hands down. It’s waaaay scarier than any of the CGI demons turned out to be. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m not sure it was the makeup or if it was a testament to CCH Pounder’s acting ability that made that nasty sorceress so damn scary. The fact that Pounder has the natural ability to make her eyes bug-out of her head didn’t hurt matters, either.

The characters, and their trials and tribulations, are what ultimately make the movie more memorable. Way more so than the generic, “let’s go get the special object” plot does. This especially goes for the lead roles, Clary (Collins) and Jace (JCB). They have an easy chemistry between them, which I’m not sure is because of their supposed off-screen partnership, but in any case, it makes it easy to get behind them as an onscreen couple. This makes things that much more interesting when they have to endure some plot swerves late in the film. I’m not going to tell you what they are (one switcheroo is particularly disturbing – once everything is processed), because it’d be downright mean to do so.

I especially enjoyed JCB (he seems to be making a career out of these types of films, having played Grindewald in the “Harry Potter” franchise AND Caius in the “Twilight” films) and his smug, sarcastic performance as the brooding Shadowhunter, Jace. His pessimistic attitude and hardhearted aura really embodies that of a guy who walks around dingy alleys and disreputable clubs (one such club is called “Pan-Demon-ium” – maybe demons should hide in less obvious place next time, huh?), stalking demons, while they hide in plain sight and do their demonic things. Jace trudges around with a pouty look on his face, a steel sword at his side, and his hoody always in the up-position, as not to look TOO shady. Needless to say, Jace gets a “fail” in the “blending in” department.

He does, however, manage to catch the eye of the artistic and equally emo Clary, who happens to be out one night, celebrating her birthday at Club Pan-DEMON-ium, with her best friend Simon (played by Robert Sheehan, who also stars in a 2011 film called “Demons Must Die” – look it up). It is here that sees Jace and his fellow Shadowhunters (Kevin Zegers and Jemima West, respectively) murder a seemingly innocent man

JCB, Kevin Zegers and Jemima West as Shadowhunters

You can find me in da club…

and she sees the whole thing while looking into a mirror. Nevertheless, she seems to be the only one who saw the murder. Little does Clary know, the murdered man was in reality a demon and Jace is actually a part of a group called the Shadowhunters – who all live in a secret refuge called “The Institution,” are covered from head-to-toe in ancient rune tattoos, and spend their days protecting New York City from dangerous creatures who live in a realm called “Downworld.”

Jace follows Clary, tracks her down, and eventually tells her who he is and what he does and how she fits in to all of this. See, Clary is a mundane, which is another word for a “muggle,” which is the “Harry Potter” word for boring, everyday schmuck. What Jace doesn’t understand is why she was able to see him kill the demon at the club, in the first place.

The movie’s first act and most of the second act are largely devoted to that very question: Who is Clary and why is she special? Okay, so that’s technically two questions, but whatever the case may be, the answer is important to the story. We learn that Clary’s mother is also a Shadowhunter AND her mother’s boyfriend/husband/whatever, Luke (played by Aidan Turner of “The Hobbit”) is a werewolf (yup, there’s werewolves up in here… and vampires, too – however, according to the film, zombies are NOT real) and Clary had no idea that any of this was happening. That’s because her mom (played by Game of Thrones and “300” star Lena Headey) did her best to protect her from Downworld and its weird inhabitants, by taking her to get glammered (sorry, too much True Blood)… I meant… to get her mind erased by local warlock Magnus Bane (relative newcomer Godfrey Gao).

See, I told you it gets complicated.

Actually, the plot eventually turns out to be quite simple, really. It seems that there is a powerful, ancient relic called “The Mortal Cup” (ohhh… now I get it, “The MORTAL Instruments”), to which Clary’s mom was entrusted to hide and protect, and now the demons want it for themselves – so they can rule the world, of course. Clary’s Mom disappears, in order to escape the clutches of some WWE-sized demon dudes, who

JCB and Collins light-up the screen

… In the ciiiiirclllle, the ciiir-cllllle of liiii-iiiiight…

come to her house to find The Mortal Cup. This now puts Clary right-in-the-middle of the fight, as she has to find her mom, protect the cup, and fend off the advances of two guys (Jace and Simon BOTH dig her)… all at the same time. She also attracts the attention of head bad guy Valentine Morganstern (Jonathan Rhys Meyers of the Showtime series “The Tudors”), who may or may not have a few secrets to unleash upon Clary and unsuspecting, female teenage moviegoers, as well.

We’ve seen a variance of this basic plot in a million movies before, but at least this film handles matters in a creative fashion. The creature design is well thought-out and original.

QUICK SIDE NOTE: That is, except for the werewolves. Since when did werewolves become ACTUAL wolves? What happened to the half-man/half-wolf with the ripped clothes? I want that werewolf back. I blame “Twilight” and its “Team Jacob” nonsense.

Anyway, the demons are impressive looking (although, they’re fully-rendered CGI), with their smoke-and-fire exterior and the vampires are also represented in a unique way,

everybody but Slimer is here to fight the vampires

… It turned into a ballroom blitz, BALLROOM BLITZ….
(yeah, that’s right. another song reference)

with the way they walk on the ceiling and congregate in abandoned ballrooms. The scene where the Shadowhunters take on the vampires (in a place called “The House of Blood,” no less) is like “Lord of the Rings”-meets-“Ghostbusters”-meets-”I Am Legend.” It’s as cool as it sounds.

I have to admit that I found the movie rather fun. Director Harald Zwart does an admirable job with the source material, even with all the clichés and dime store romance. I know that the romantic moments might be a positive aspect for some moviegoers (especially of the female variety), as there’s a whole genre devoted to the hug-n-kissery of films like “The Notebook,” along with every other Nicholas Sparks novel to hit the big screen. However, the attraction between Clary and Jace is handled in an unexpected way – one that I could NEVER have predicted – that I bet you won’t see coming, either.

With a solid hold on the spirit and vision of Cassandra Clare’s (Jessica Postigo, who’s writing the upcoming “Tarzan” reboot, penned the screenplay) novels, as well as a creative angle on the visual look of well-known movie monsters, “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” looks like it’s on its way to (at least) a part two, with “City of Ashes” allegedly in pre-production. At least that’s further than such young adult franchises as “The Golden Compass” and “Eragon” got. That being said, I’m positive that “The Mortal Instruments” franchise is tryin’ to get that big money.

That “Twilight”/“Hunger Games” money.

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