Mark Reviews Movies

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones


1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Harald Zwart

Cast: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan, Kevin Zegers, Jemima West, Aidan Turner, Lena Headey, Kevin Durand, Godfrey Gao, CCH Pounder, Jared Harris, Jonathan Rhys Meyers

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action, and some suggestive content)

Running Time: 2:10

Release Date: 8/21/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 20, 2013

It's only a slight exaggeration to say that about three-quarters of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is spent explaining the movie's world, characters, and plot. At a certain point in this jumble of angels, demons, Shadow Hunters, vampires, witches and warlocks, werewolves, mystical portals, familial melodrama, runes, a love triangle, a villainous plan to do something with a grail given to Crusaders by the archangel Raziel, and a slew of other things thrown together in a stinking stew of supernatural gobbledygook, it becomes clear that the only reasonable response is to throw up one's hands and just accept that none of this is going to make any sense no matter how many characters turn up to explain it all.

Even the title isn't that helpful. The "Mortal Instruments" seem to be objects given to those Crusaders, who were the first Shadow Hunters, in an attempt to better fight demons. At this point, there are multiple questions, with the key one being: What's a Shadow Hunter? Well, they're men and women who fight demons through the use of various weapons, runes that are tattooed on their bodies and empower the bearer with magical spells, and witch stones.

Where does one begin with that explanation? Well, the weapons are swords and daggers and an admittedly nifty "vampire gun," which one pushes against a vampire's chest to extend a stake with a pointy, rotating drill bit at the end. The designs of the runes are collected in an ages-old book and, depending on the symbol, can make the person who bears them invisible or other things that are suggested but never really explored, and the witch stones are like magic wands that can heal or burn runes into a Shadow Hunters skin.

See, even now, there are still questions galore after all of that. The first, of course, is: What's a Shadow Hunter again?

This is a movie that begins cryptically with nothing to root us in what's happening to its young heroine, and it only grows more frustratingly dense with clarifications that toss out a lot of information without ever actually explaining anything. The "City of Bones," by the way, is on screen for about five minutes, so that's not much help, either.

Clary (Lily Collins) is a Shadow Hunter but doesn't know it. Her mother Jocelyn (Lena Headey) has been wiping her daughter's memory clean every year to keep that knowledge from her. After Jocelyn is kidnapped, Clary comes into contact with other Shadow Hunters, including Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), who—after a lot of exposition-stating, it turns out—are also trying to find her mother because she knows where the Mortal Cup, a relic that can create other Shadow Hunters, is located. The evil Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) wants to the cup to complete his nefarious plan, which has something to do with racial purity and might make sense if the screenplay by Jessica Postigo (based on the first book in a series by Cassandra Clare) bothered to elucidate what the cup actually does.

Clary's quest is less one of action and more one of meeting characters who talk about history and mythology and cue flashbacks. The head of the Institute, an old cathedral where the Shadow Hunters of New York City (all four of them) gather to talk and—we assume—do something in regards to fighting demons, is Hodge (Jared Harris), and he goes off on a monologue about the battle between good and evil—a battle that can never be won but must be fought nonetheless. Then Clary meets a warlock whose name and title is—I kid you not—Magnus Bane, the High Warlock of Brooklyn (Godfrey Gao), and he goes on and on some more about Jocelyn's secret life.

There are fights with vampires and demons, and the fact that a major character has been bitten by a vampire is a complete non-event. Clary and Jace flirt often, and her "mundane" (read: human) best friend Simon (Robert Maillet) is jealous because he loves her (There are long stretches where characters seem more interested in other characters' love lives than with the impending doom of whatever's happening). Valentine shows up for the climax to relate some more back story (including a hilarious bit with a ring that would fit perfectly in a parody of such overblown melodrama), only to be distracted by and let his guard down because of a bubble. After all the monotonous and indecipherable nonsense The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones throws at us, the climactic, inadvertently comical proceedings are at least entertaining—even if for the wrong reasons.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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