Review: The Mortal Instruments - City of Bones / Cert: 12A / Director: Harald Swart / Screenplay: Jessica Postigo Paquette / Starring: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan, Kevin Zegers, Lena Headey, Aidan Turner / Release Date: Out Now
Hollywood’s desperation to find a new blockbuster teen fantasy franchise with Twilight-like box office potential continues apace and it looks like we can comfortably add The Mortal Instruments - City of Bones to a growing list of misjudged misfires (The Host, Beautiful Creatures). This adaptation of the first in Cassandra Clare’s series of novels fumbles the ball by trying to cram in too much, too soon, and ends up punctuating its frantic action sequences with acres of clumpy exposition in a story which is already too haphazard for its own good.
It’s a shame because it all starts off quite well. Initial New York sequences are punchy and atmospheric, as our heroine Clary Fray (Lily Collins, daughter of grizzled former Genesis drummer/singer Phil) stumbles into a world of demons, monsters and mysterious, leather-clad warriors called Shadowhunters who seem to be invisible to everyone except her. It’s an intriguing set-up and the first FX setpiece, Clary trapped in her own home and attacked by a grotesque dog-blob demon, is repulsively gruesome and surprisingly exciting. But it all gets a bit sluggish when the mean and moody Shadowhunters rock up, contemporary New York is left behind and Clary and her ‘mundane’ mate Simon (former Misfit Sheehan) find themselves in the Shadowhunters' massive Gothic folly home, a huge invisible building smack in the middle of the city. The endless info-dumping starts here as backstory is revealed in tortuous flashback and static dialogue-heavy sequences. As if sensing that the audience’s attention is wandering, the story (something to do with salvaging a mystical, magical goblet) throws in a random battle with a horde of vampires in their abandoned hotel fortress, a pack of poorly animated werewolves, some fire demons and, of course, much sighing and pouting and tortured teenage angst.
The action, when it comes, is much tougher and more brutal than most teen fantasy flicks – people die and they die nastily – but there’s altogether too much flab in between the fighting, although at least what threatened to become a dreary romantic arc for Clary and Bower’s wiry Shadowhunter Jace is derailed by a welcome, if unlikely, plot twist. Watch out for the hilarious Magnus Bane, the so-called ‘High Warlock of Brooklyn’ who makes Gok Wan look like Jason Statham as he wanders round wearing just a frock coat and underpants for no apparent reason.
City of Bones might have hit the mark with a shorter running time and a tighter narrative, and whilst it’s not a complete creative disaster, it’s clearly not the stuff long-running franchises are made of. Judicious editing and a more coherent storyline could save the day but Sony might yet have cause to regret fast-tracking the already-in-production second movie, City of Ashes.
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10