Nary a day goes by without some new fantasy, teen romance series of novels setting the studios hearts a flutter with the hope that they’ve landed the new Twilight and guaranteed teen hysteria. Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Beautiful Creatures failed to find a significant audience and even Twilight author Stephenie Meyer’s The Host came and went without anyone really noticing, so the omens weren’t good for the first of a proposed trilogy of Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series; City of Bones but with the second part already greenlit hopes are high that studio E One’s faith in the franchise is not misplaced.
We are introduced to Clary Fray (Lily Collins) a normal teenage girl who absentmindedly is drawing a mysterious symbol on scrap pieces of paper around her house much to the worry of her seemingly over protective mother (Lena Headey). Along with her best friend Simon (Misfits star Robert Sheehan), Clary gains entry into one of those industrial goth clubs that only seem to exist in the movies and witnesses, what she perceives to be, a murder by a mysterious leather clad trio including the brooding Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower). After her mother disappears Clary teams up with Jace and discovers she has angelic powers and, like him, is a Shadowhunter, a part angel sworn to protect the human race from demons. With an incredulous Simon in tow, the threesome set out to find Clary’s mother and the missing artefact, The Mortal Cup, that seems to be at the heart of her disappearance.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones will not convince anyone not already under the spell of the books that it is anything other than another exercise in young adult wish fulfilment, whereby a seemingly average youth discovers that they, or someone they have a major case of the hots for, is blessed with preternatural talents and that a bit of danger only increases ones ardour. While there is a love story (a perfunctory one at best) City of Bones has less in common with the Twilight Saga and more with Harry Potter. Certainly we have our fair share of teen angst with Collins and Campbell Bower throwing furtive glances at one another while Sheehan and Kevin Zegers, playing Jace’s fellow Shadowhunter and best friend Alec, longingly look on, but these trivialities are given rather short shrift onscreen in comparison to the book. Instead the focus is more with the business at hand, tracking the location of The Mortal Cup and Clary discovering her past, destiny and her rather nifty powers. Matters are explained in yawn-some, staid exposition by Campbell Bower and Jared Harris as housebound Shadowhunter and mentor to Jace, Hodge. Harris does his best to bring some gravitas to proceedings, much in the same way as the older, established stars of the Harry Potter franchise, but is bogged down with some dull lines only really coming into his own as tortured soul in the final third. Headey is solid in her short time onscreen and former Being Human star Aidan Turner is likable as Clary’s father figure Luke.
As with the Harry Potter universe, the magical world around us is hidden to “mundane” eyes. Muggles seems a less derogatory term for normal human beings don’t you think? Director Harold Zwart uses CGI sparingly and impressively to illustrate the bizarre and abnormal, with Jace’s home ‘The Institute’ a palatial fortress in the centre of New York, and demons masquerading as humans all unseen by mundanes. There’s a particularly tasty episode early on where Clary is attacked by a demonic creature that morphs into something John Carpenter would be proud of and, in probably the best scene in the film, a nest of vampires scurry unnoticed from the ceiling of their hotel hideout. It’s delightfully creepy, making one long for a harder less tweeny friendly approach.
Of our leads Sheehan steals the show as the sweet, vaguely pithy Simon. Sheehan’s inherent charm manages to overcome his sadly underwritten character and it is he who commands the viewers sympathy. More Sheehan in the sequel please.
Collins acquits herself well enough as the feisty Clary, making her a heroine to root for. It’s certainly Collins most appealing role to date and she manages to keep her mooning over Jace to a minimum. Campbell Bower certainly nails the broody, snark required of Jace but is sadly saddled with some painful lines. For an actor with bags of charms he is given barely anything to work with, Jace coming across as a bit one dimensional. Given more to do other than alternately disparaging or cooing at Clary and he’d be a romantic lead we can really get on board with. It’s also fair to note that Clary and Jace are given one of the most cringe worthy, cheesiest screen kisses this side of a Mills and Boon. And it was all going so well.
The clichés certainly come thick and fast with flannel wearing, pickup truck driving werewolves and sexy leather clad vampires and demons but to be honest these are comforting clichés, making one sure of who’s who amongst all the confusing exposition.
The villain, Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), is mentioned in an almost throwaway manner so that when he does make his entrance it hasn’t the impact the filmmakers desire. Rhys Meyers chews the scenery with crazy eyed aplomb, but is hard to take seriously when he looks as if he’s walked off the set of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. One certainly wouldn’t be shocked to find him spinning the Wurlitzer at a Bank Holiday fun fair.
So is The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones going to sway the Twi-haters? Unlikely, but with considerably less teen love and more scary moments than that particular franchise it could find an audience open to giving teenage fantasy another go.