Of all the young adult book series adaptations to come out recently, “Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones” (based on the book series by Cassandra Clare) has to be the most convoluted. Where “Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters” just felt uninspired and phoned in, “City Of Bones” tries to incorporate too many ingredients, without any of them really making much of an impression. It’s almost as if it was conceived entirely in a focus group. The movie is essentially a mash up of “Harry Potter” “Twilight, “Blade,” and “Underworld” along with some “Star Wars”. And that’s not even all of it. Here’s a movie that’s so densely plotted and only concerned with how many cool things from other fantasy and supernatural works it can toss in.
Set in modern day New York City (I highlight this because during all of the fantasy and supernatural happenings some characters still use iPhones), the story revolves around teenager Clary Fray (Lilly Collins), an average “Too Cool For School” adolescent. She’s just going along doing her thing, hanging out with her goofy hipster friend Simon (Robert Sheehan) and not getting along with her mother Jocelyn (Lena Headey). But then, uh oh! Her world suddenly turns upside down, when she discovers a secret world hidden within the real world that’s full of demons. Or Vampires. I’m not exactly sure, both terms are used. Either way, they take the form of Mundanes (“Muggles”, for all you “Harry Potter” fans and “humans” for everyone else) and like to hang out in freaky raver nightclubs. One day two muscled biker-looking thugs break into her home and attack Jocelyn. They’re searching for a cup, or (using the pronunciation of the lead thug played by Kevin Durand) a caahhuup! It’s a very special caahhuup! that has to do with immortality… or something like that. Jocelyn is the only one who knows where it is and instead of being tortured or killed by these guys she takes some kind of potion and sends herself to another dimension. Man! What a potion!
Amidst all of this commotion Clary meets Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) a tattooed, leather jacket wearing hunk known as a Shadowhunter (a half angel, half human demon/vampire hunter essentially). Jace, along with Simon and Clary complete the movie’s love triangle. Jace of course is Clary’s obvious choice for a suitor; with his chiseled face, gorgeous long blonde hair and British accent. And he can kill demons, what more could one want from a guy? He’s the Edward Cullen of this movie, which also means he’s a gigantic bore. Bower delivers his lines with almost no emotion, keeps the same serious expression on his face and does a lot of intense staring across the room at Clary. Simon on the other hand has liked her for a long time and has always been there for her, but Clary thinks of him as a friend instead of a lover. Aside from looks I don’t know what Clary could possibly see in Jace. Simon at least has some personality.
Moving on, Jace takes Clary and Simon to a Hogwarts style invisible safe haven (right in the middle of the city) where he and all of the other tattooed, leather wearing Shadowhunters live. There’s Alec (Kevin Zegers) and Isabelle (Jemima West) who, aside from being more attractive young people, serve little to no purpose in the story. While there, Clary discovers that she too is a Shadowhunter and for a little while you think the movie is going to turn into “Clary Fray: Demon/Vampire Hunter.” But no! it all goes back to that stupid cup mentioned earlier. It’s a very powerful, Holy Grail-esque chalice that, if placed in the wrong hands, can be very dangerous. So it’s up to Clary and the gang to run around town fighting vampires and demons to retrieve it before this other rogue Shadowhunter guy Valentine (Jonathon Rhys Meyers) gets it first and does evil stuff with it.
There’s more. Oh lord you better believe there’s more! Instead of building character the movie is just one left turn after another, introducing more and more fantasy/supernatural elements with no nuance and very little coherence. It’s got something for everybody! You want a blue liquid portal that allows you to go to other dimensions? You got it! You want an enchanted garden full of magical flowers? You got it! You want a scruffy leather jacket wearing werewolf army? You got it! You want creepy demons made of ash? You got it! Oh wait; Clara possesses some extraordinary ability (like being able to pull out objects that have been hidden in magic cards) all of a sudden. Sure, why not? She’s the chosen lady. There’s one big revelation (this is where “Star Wars” comes into the mix) that comes near the end involving Clary and Jace that’s so out-of-left-field and ridiculous that’s it’s just too much. Even worse, the movie then immediately proceeds to make that revelation ambiguous in a poor attempt to create interest in the next story.
In short: the movie is a tedious mess that ends up being too complicated and bloated for its own good.
It’s not hard to see why Clare’s book series (there are six) would be so popular among young adults. They have everything! I mean literally, they have almost everything a young adult might be interested in; vampires, werewolves, demons, attractive half angel people, objects that need to be retrieved, portals, prophecies, teen love triangles, iPhones. But by having all of this stuff just sort of shoved in there and by trying to appeal to everyone “Mortal Instruments” amounts to practically nothing in the end. Another utterly worthless attempt to capitalize on a young adult book series for some box office dollars.