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Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, The (2013)

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Score: 2/10

Genre: Fantasy Running Time: 2 hrs. 10 min.

Release Date: August 21st, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Harald Zwart Actors: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Kevin Zegers, Jemima West, Robert Sheehan, Godfrey Gao


he constant warfare between vampires and werewolves is no stranger to cinema in the 21st century.  “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” takes the concept one step further by throwing in angels, evil spirits, and demon hunters, along with budding teenagers overly reminiscent of the “Twilight” movies.  By the time alchemic portals, cups of immortality, and promiscuous warlocks make an appearance, the plot has already borrowed and incorporated significant ideas from nearly every fantasy film made in the last thirty years.   If there’s anything even remotely innovative in “The Mortal Instruments,” it’s countered by an absence of parameters.  The meager few moments of calm before the protagonists are thrust into an alternate world teeming with unexplained phenomena simply doesn’t offer enough exposition.  Anything can – and does – happen in this maelstrom of disorganized imagery.  For a city full of bones, not a single one is original.

When Clary Fray (Lily Collins) begins noticing strange symbols everywhere, as well as mysterious people only she can see, it’s clear she’s no ordinary adolescent girl.  But before she can learn the truth about her unusual abilities, her mother (Lena Headey) goes missing. Clary is confronted by Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), an enigmatic young man who saves her life from a hellish monster – and who offers guidance to unlocking her secrets.  Reluctantly trusting Jace, Clary follows him to The Institute, a secret castle where the last of the demon hunters dwell.  There, Clary learns that she is the descendent to a long line of Shadow Hunters, warriors who have pledged to fight against the forces of darkness.  Now, with deadly rogue sorcerer Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) quickly closing in on Clary’s whereabouts, the young girl must rely on her new friends to help her locate her mother and procure a mystical cup that may hold the key to stopping the ruthless killer’s diabolical plans.

This is one incredibly mixed up, poorly planned, annoyingly plotted mess, struggling immeasurably to make sense of hundreds of ideas that don’t synthesize well. Pushing together vampires, werewolves, demons, pentagrams, witches, castles, magic wands, and curvy swords (but no zombies!), among many other fantasy elements, comes across as convoluted and busy –like stitching together a reel of trailers for “Harry Potter,” “Twilight,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “Star Wars,” and countless more. At its best, it’s highly derivative of some extremely mediocre movies; at its worst, it’s derivative of exceedingly famous ones.

With cryptic symbols, otherworldly visions, gothic attire, heaps of lies, masses of secrets, and relying predominantly on a single, ignorant soul to summon the power necessary to save the world, “The Mortal Instruments” follows the legions of other teen fantasy films in developing a hopelessly generic, widely encompassing story. Injected into this commonplace environment are love triangles, shirtless hunks, scantily clad girls, sword-wielding barbarians, legendary monsters, and spell-casting sorcerers. It’s steadily more romantic than adventurous, aiming squarely at female teens. With the success of the “Twilight” franchise, it’s not unanticipated that studios would want to recreate the formula. It’s just shocking that Screen Gems doesn’t put any effort into it. The visuals are there, but the concepts unfold as if made up spontaneously, with no ground rules, no details, and no follow-through. The film even pokes fun at itself regularly, not realizing that the self-reflective humor only heightens the ridiculousness of every scenario. Perhaps it’s better when it borrows ingredients from “Knowing,” “Solomon Kane,” or “Silent Hill” – it’s quite embarrassing when it steals from the popular staples of science-fiction and occult thrillers.

– The Massie Twins


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