The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)


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Wow, was this terrible.

I’ll preface this by saying I haven’t read the book, so I’m judging it on the merits of the movie alone. I saw the movie with a friend who is a fan of the books, but came to the same conclusion on the movie – so if you’re a fan of the book, possibly avoid this one.

I’m not sure I know where to begin on describing this one. The story, I guess

Harry Potter Clary Fray is a seemingly normal boy girl, until his her 11th 15th birthday when he she learns he’s she’s actually a wizard “shadow hunter”. Harry Clary leaves behind the ordinary world full of ordinary people (that wizards shadow hunters call “Muggles” “Mundanes”) and goes off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry “The Institute” to fulfil his her newfound destiny of defeating the evil wizard Voldemort shadow hunter Valentine under the guidance of wise mentor Dumbledore Hodge. Voldemort Valentine is after a powerful artefact known as the Philosopher’s Stone Mortal Cup, which if wielded by the wrong person, could bring great power to their evil ways.

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At least I think that’s what the story was. There’s no real capacity for it to sink in, because the movie starts and never stops to fill anyone in on what’s actually going on. Which is strange, given that the script is made up of just as much expository dialogue as it is complete and utter drivel.

I’m really, really struggling to think of a mainstream movie script in recent times that has been more incompetent at conveying a) plot, b) character or c) a single sequence of events.

It’s a bizarre sight to behold, but stuff just keeps on happening in this movie, with almost no relevance to what has happened before and bearing almost no relevance to what will follow. There’s no set up or decent explanations to the goings on in the movie – it just happens when it happens. Clary suddenly develops powerful, unheard of knowledge of how to fight demons at exactly the most convenient moment for the characters, with absolutely no foreshadowing or prior establishment. The obligatory love triangle rears its head with a misunderstanding that escalates into a melodramatic tantrum-throwing argument in literally (literally) less than one line of dialogue.

There’s no connection. There’s no pace. There’s just scenes. And they just keep on happening. And also, for a movie that’s (sub)titled with “The City of Bones” it shows up for about a minute and a half and has absolutely no bearing on the plot – don’t know if that’s how it is in the book too, but it’s a great way to set up an audience member, who might not be particularly invested in the movie based on what he’s seen already, to think that something significant is finally going to happen, and then have him be even more disappointed.

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There’s also dialogue, and it kills me that someone has been paid thousands of dollars to write what the characters actually say in this movie. It kills me that actors have been paid to actually say what was written for them. It’s awful. It’s 100% unconvincing, and so completely trite and puerile that it was agonising to watch. And I almost mean agonising in the literal sense – this movie goes from lacklustre to frustrating to crushing and oppressive tedium within its first ten minutes.

The characters are not written as characters, but instead as their characteristic – and the usage of a singular noun there is deliberate. Clary = chosen one. Jace = Love interest (a). Simon = love interest (b). Isabelle = badass. Alec = gay. So on and so forth, and if you expect any actual development of these characters, think again! This movie operates on the logic that it’s ok for a character to somehow arrive at some revelation or achieve some new skill or whatever you might expect to see take place over the course of a traditional story, but without showing you any of the work/study/training/growth that’s required. The shortest distance between two points on a character arc is The Mortal Instruments.

And as for the performances? Not a single good one. Sure, some look better in comparison to what else is on offer here, but there’s two methods in this movie – “frantic panic and lack of comprehension as to what’s happening around me”, or endless, undying posturing, posing and attempts at looking/sounding/acting badass or cooooool with utter failure as a result. I take it back – Lena Headey was excellent as Clary’s mother Jocelyn. Jocelyn spends most of the movie off-screen or in a coma. I can only hope that the new kitchen Lena Headey wanted to put in that this movie paid for is beautiful.

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 7.46.42 AMLena and I shared this expression for most of the movie.

And I feel really bad being that mean to an entire cast – I’m sure they’re all lovely people, and some of them have been in things I’ve genuinely enjoyed in the past, but that almost makes it worse – Jared Harris’s turn as not-Dumbledore is wasted into a mess of a character, but he gets crippled under the pressure of trying to pass off any credibility with the god-awful material put in front of him. Jonathan Rhys-Myers on the other hand plays Valentine with the most unintentionally hilarious attempts at badassery that instead look like some emo teen with delusions of grandeur. With the right amount of tweaking, this could have been the camp highlight of the year; instead, it’s just ridiculously humourless.

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Also, the movie is derivative as fuck. I’ve made my Harry Potter allegory above, but name any notable fantasy/sci-fi franchise of the last 20 years and this movie steals borrows from it heavily. And that would be fine if the movie was derivative enough to actually make a cohesive whole out of the sum of its parts, but the end result just makes you realise how much better these things were done in the original stories that the movie is stealing from.

The visual effects might have been impressive if there’d been any stakes around them in terms of tension, but nothing whatsoever. This is also a movie that employs a lot of CGI to throw its characters around the place during fight scenes, and not only does it not work, I had to stop myself laughing out loud several times.

And it drags on. I was already bored by the time the characters found the Mortal Cup. As in the story’s climax. Which happens at the halfway point of the movie and then continues on for another hour after that. I didn’t know what to expect from this movie going in, and I can only assume that I’m lucky I didn’t have high expectations built around the book (apparently they’re really good, which you’d never guess after watching this).

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The really sad part is that it is so very close to being an outright parody of the young-adult chosen-one paranaormal-romance fantasy genre. If only it had the ability to be self-aware, this could have been comedy gold, instead of brimming with some of the most hilarious (albeit unintentional) stuff that you’re likely to ever see in a movie. There’s not a single moment that’s convincing, or exciting, or entertaining, except for the moments where you’ll be laughing at the movie, and most certainly not with it.

This is the perfect movie for teenagers to go to so that they can make out for the entire movie and not be any worse for not having paid attention.

The best thing about this movie was that I had a free ticket to see it with. I can’t imagine the insult it would be to have actually paid money for it. And for the record, I’m entirely capable of switching my brain off and taking a movie in on its own terms as a bit of harmless fun, but there was nothing fun about this. I’ve been spared the fanboy/fangirl rage of a disappointing adaptation, but if my friend’s reaction to the movie is anything to go by, that’s a very good thing.

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4 thoughts on “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)

  1. Ah, I was wondering whether or not I should see this… I have my answer now. 😀

    The books are just okay. They’re your typical YA fare; complete with teen authority issues, a love triangle, making out (all pretty PG13) and constant angst. I actually found the books’ premise a somewhat interesting one, poorly executed. From the sounds of things the books certainly did character development and growth far better than the movie though.

    • YA as a genre isn’t particularly my thing, but I’ve heard much the same – that the books are ok (if nothing greater than just “ok”) but the movie is a train wreck. If you don’t mind a really frustrating watch, it’s actually something of a spectacle to see how inept the movie is – except for Lena Headey

      • I’m disappointed to hear some of the cast didn’t perform as well as they could have. I’m a huge fan of Lena Headey in particular (though I’ve been told by a couple of people now that she was one of the brightest sparks in the movie) and I had high hopes for Robert Sheehan (being Irish). Not to mention Jonathon Rhys-Meyers has acting chops and I love Jared Harris in Fringe/Mad Men. I guess that’s what happens when the script/direction is garbage. ;D

      • I think the biggest problem is that the movie needed to cut more out to give more time to characters – these people appear on screen and say their lines but that’s it. I think Lena Headey escaped with her dignity, but I feel embarrassed for Jared Harris.

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