Why settle for one or two paranormal entities when you can have the whole lot? That appears to be the guiding principle behind The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, based on the first of Cassandra Clare’s popular Young Adult novels. Throwing together witches, warlocks, werewolves, vampires, demons, and other fantasy mainstays, Harald Zwart’s film packs so much into its 130 minutes that it can’t help but spiral out of control. Full of flat characters who take themselves far too seriously, it’s a joyless, rushed effort and hopefully a one-and-done for the potential series.
Adapted by Jessica Postigo, City of Bones focuses on Clary (Lily Collins), the latest in a long line of young heroes and heroines who not only stumble upon a magical world right in front of them, but unknowingly possess unparalleled talents capable of banishing a great evil. Joined by stock Brooklyn hipster friend Simon (Robert Sheehan), naturally in love with her his entire life without her noticing, she discovers her bloodline of demon-battling warriors called Shadowhunters and their alternate New York milieu known as Downworld. Serving as their overly expository guide and fulfilling the Edward Cullen role (down to his newbie love and piano seduction) is the Shadowhunter Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), who’s also committed to solving why Clary’s mom (Lena Heady) was abducted. Introductions of novices to unusual worlds can be exciting (see: Harry Potter; The Fellowship of the Ring), but the filmmakers here front load the familiar story with a ton of details and skimp on insights into those involved to the work’s steady detriment.
Busy including the aforementioned litany of otherworldly folk, City of Bones neglects developing characters or concepts and throws Clary into a plot that’s unnecessarily convoluted. Postigo tacks on detail after detail in a ridiculous attempt at complexity, which ironically renders the film supremely simplistic. Forcing details like Bach being a Shadowhunter whose compositions have the power to identify demons, the film ignores such basic choices as why all these New York fighters with the exception of Clary are British or why the actual City of Bones has so little to do with the story. In an attempt to gloss over these gaps, the film showcases a wealth of Clary charging into dangerous situations, nearly all of which feels unfitting when so little is known about her. Since she’s essentially another “chosen one,” this means a lot of impulsive actions like randomly scribbling runes on her hand to ward off threats and other bouts of “brilliance” unearthed from her repressed memories, most of which can’t help but feel goofy.
Collins does her best with the limited material and generally makes for a convincing lead, but isn’t given much support by her 20something peers or more experienced co-stars. Whereas Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons added welcome gravitas to this year’s similarly teen-centric Beautiful Creatures, the marquee talent of City of Bones consists of Jonathan Rhys Meyers doing a lot of silly shouting as chief villain Valentine, CCH Pounder’s boring witch, and a sadly underused Jared Harris, who comes closest to imbuing the film with heft as housebound Shadowhunter Hodge. Approaching the script with an overly authoritative air, these performances come off comically flat, reducing an already dull work to a stern bore. For a film overstuffed with supernatural sights, that’s an especially unappetizing prospect, though it does accomplish one thing: now Beautiful Creatures doesn’t seem quite so bad.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action, and some suggestive content.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.