While it packs a great deal of magical punch and rousing set pieces, “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” suffers from an overstuffed mythology, sloppy storytelling, and flat acting performances to the point where it can’t hope to be the next grand fantasy blockbuster.
In modern-day New York City, a teenage girl named Clary Fray (Lily Collins) learns of her true heritage: she comes from a bloodline of Shadowhunters, a secret society of half-angel/half-human warriors that protect the world from demonic threats.
When her mother (Lena Headey) disappears, Clary must team up with Jace Wayland (Jamie Campbell Bower) and his fellow Shadowhunters, who introduce her to a realm unknown to most people. But even as Clary encounters demons, vampires, werewolves, warlocks, and other nefarious creatures, she strives to find her mother and get some answers about why she was abducted in the first place.
I’ll admit that I enjoyed the film’s action sequences and the visual flair, and director Harold Zwart spent a substantial amount of time and money crafting several exciting scenes to realize his vision. His efforts get the results he’s looking for — Valentine’s minions attacking Jocelyn, Clary and the Shadowhunters fighting vampires, demons invading the Institute — and wow the audience with their photo-realistic glory.
But for all its fantastic visuals and action sequences, “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” has no idea of how to be more than just a big-budget spectacle.
There’s no doubt that the film contains a very rich mythology, but the problem is that there’s just too much to showcase in one go.
It might’ve been better had the story focused on the conflict between the Shadowhunters and the demons, leaving the vampires, werewolves, warlocks, and other monsters for another installment. But no…the production had to cram everything about this otherworldly realm into one film and overwhelm us with elements that aren’t well developed.
We should be feeling excitement, but all we end up experiencing is dissatisfaction.
Furthermore, the writing in this film bears the scars of a rough draft of a TV script that didn’t receive the necessary revisions.
We start off with Clary searching for her mom once she is taken by Valentine in his search for the Mortal Cup, but soon the focus shifts to the object and forgets the aforementioned woman, rendering this plot point insignificant. Plus, the chemistry between Clary and Jace is so contrived you’d think you were watching a hokey dating commercial.
I don’t know if this is just bad storytelling from the source material or if it’s a mistake made by the director, but whatever the case, the writing left me disappointed.
It’s obvious that Lily Collins has a passion for the material, and her gusto helps to instill an eye-catching magnetism in the Clary Fray character. Despite the not-so-impressive script and narrative, she’s the only one who succeeds in holding her head high. In contrast, Jamie Campbell Bower is devoid of appeal, speaking his lines as though he could care less about what happens to Jace Wayland. If anything, all he seems to care about are his tattoos and abs.
Robert Sheehan tries his best to come into his own as Simon Lewis, but the uninspired writing prevents him from doing so. Kevin Zegers and Jemima West, who portray siblings Alec and Isabelle Lightwood, respectively, do nothing but fight enemies — all the time. Sadly, there’s not much to say about Lena Headey, Jared Harris, and C. C. H. Pounder either; I blame the script for wasting their potential.
As for Jonathan Rhys Meyers — who plays antagonist Valentine Morgenstern — he exudes no genuine menace despite his name being mentioned countless times, and his overacting doesn’t do him any favors.
Such a shame that “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” couldn’t pull itself together and overcome the shortcomings afflicting it. Lily Collins deserves credit for her perseverance, but we can only lament at how badly she was let down by the usual key factors.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action, and some suggestive content.
Running time: 2 hours and 10 minutes
Playing: In general release