Review: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

city of bonesNot quite sure what to say about this one. In today’s world of YA urban fantasy action love stories, you’re obviously going to draw some comparison to Harry Potter and Twilight – the heavyweights of that genre. And the film of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (which is WAY too long for a title) certainly doesn’t disappoint in that regard.

Is there a love triangle (or two)? Check.
Teen Protagonist who doesn’t know about their magical abilities? Check.
Werewolves (as protectorate, close family friend and biker gang)? Check.
Love sick best friend pining for a love which will never be reciprocated (and possibly being a vampire)? Check.
Really beautiful people who would be at home on a CW show? Check.

It’s got everything we’ve come to expect from a film like this… so why doesn’t it work?

The first and most obvious answer is that there’s really very little here which is new or innovative. The author of the original books these are based on is a former slash fiction writer which explains some of the less common sexual overtones (more than just standard L/G there’s also incest and some underage canoodling) but even these aren’t very interesting or even surprising. (Sorry, but “I AM your father” hasn’t been a shocker since 1980). What is surprising is the level of humor in the script itself. There are some wonderfully self-depracting moments and lines which would be at home in much better films like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

I specify “in the script” because it’s there in the words… not on the screen. And for that I firmly place the blame on director Harald Zwart. According to his IMDB credit list, the man hasn’t yet figured out how to make a good film (and he’s been given ample opportunity with big name casts) but in watching City of Bones, you can see why. He sucks the energy out of his actor’s performances. Lines which could have been hysterical elicit mere chuckles while brooding lover’s ennui is reduced to a poor imitation of melodrama. Maybe it’s me, and Zwart intends his film to be a satire of the genre, but somehow I don’t  think so. I think he approached this with complete earnestness and ended up strangling the life out of it, leaving a film which is afternoon matinee enjoyable despite his best efforts (and will probably end up being a wonderfully interactive midnight cult film with just a little prodding).

Which isn’t to say the script is perfect, not by a longshot. There are plot whole galore, mostly involving timelines and character lineages. I can only hope they are explained better in the novel and that first time screenwriter Jessica Postigo just missed it. Then again… probably not. There’s a lot of hand-waving and distraction to keep us as audience from looking too closely at the in-chrono-sistencies. Yeah, I just made that up. Feel free to use it.

Cast wise, Lena Headey is making the most of her Cersei Lannister breaks in shooting to cram as many films as possible into her schedule, and deservedly so. She deliver’s one of the better performances here (despite the duck face when she’s supposedly in suspended animation). Solid professionals CCH Pounder and Jonathan Rhys Meyers use the apparent lack of control of their director as a chance to get their fill of scenery, each chewing enough to last them through several performances with a helmsmen with a tighter hand on the reins.

Finally, I just want to say a little bit about the music. Now, to be fair, I’m not a music guy. I’m slightly tone deaf and really, unless it’s in broad strokes, I’m not the person to talk about the effectiveness or lack there of in a film’s score or use of popular music. That all said, if I suddenly sit up during a dramatic scene and say “wow, this music is really bad” you should take notice. And that’s nothing compared to the horrific misuse of a pop song during the “love” scene. Honestly, I’m not sure a film could get a less appropriate feeling out of the marrying of audio and video.

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