Following on from the immense worldwide acclaim and triumph of the cinematic adaptations of both the Harry Potter and Twilight novels, the ‘young adult’ genre has been explored once more, this time with Harald Zwart bringing Cassandra Clare’s popular fantasy fiction to the big screen. Though entering into a newly created universe, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones still feels somewhat conventional and unimaginative as we watch our protagonists, leaving the realm of the ‘Mundanes’ to infiltrate a surreal and enchanting new world. Though talking of mundane…
When her mother (Lena Headey) is kidnapped, youngster Clary (Lily Collins) discovers she has not been leading quite the normal life she had imagined, and that she descends from a long line of ‘Shadowhunters’, who quietly protect our world from demons. With a score to settle, Clary, alongside her oldest friend Simon (Robert Sheehan), teams up with Shadowhunter Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) to embark on a life-threatening adventure to uncover her mother’s whereabouts and save her from the dark forces at play, entering in to the dangerous, alternate version of New York called Downworld. In the meantime, she finds herself locked in to a desperate love triangle with her two accomplices, in a venture that is set to change all of their lives for good.
When you’re dealing with the very first picture in a potential film franchise, particularly in the fantasy genre, it’s always crucial to be extensively briefed on the narrative, and almost spoon-fed vital information on the backdrop and context of this new world we have entered into, regardless of whether you have read the books or not. However, avoiding any sense of contemplation, ‘normality’ doesn’t last nearly long enough, as Clary discovers she is a Shadowhunter far too early on, disallowing us the opportunity to become emotionally invested in her role, as we embark on this adventure with little build up.
We’re also lacking in the human elements to our roles, especially as we’re peering in to this surreal world from Clary’s perspective, and yet she seems far too lackadaisical and nonchalant about it all to truly represent the viewer. It doesn’t help that we also have a needless (yet sadly understandable) romantic subplot to contend with, which causes us to deviate away from the important aspects of the narrative. It’s predictable too, and at times becoming so stereotypical, it feels almost like a parody of the genre, as we go from being a dark, gothic fantasy to a cringeworthy, fluffy romantic flick. There are some one-liners that are just difficult to sit through. Doesn’t anybody, from script writer to actor, realise that these are words that shouldn’t be spoken out loud?
However, at times The Mortal Instruments is so unashamedly cliched and overstated, that it becomes almost enjoyable, as the viewer thrives in the frivolity of it all. Not to mention the trepidation caused as a result of the ambiguity on show, as we simply don’t know who to trust at points, which always makes for good fun. Another saving grace should have come in the character of Simon, played by Sheehan, who has wonderful charisma and comic timing – yet he is criminally underused. Collins impresses though, with some much needed feistiness to her demeanour, though whether she quite has the gusto to lead such a big blockbuster is another matter entirely. That said, it’s always encouraging to see such a strong female lead in a big Hollywood blockbuster.
At the very heart of this story is a family rescue mission, which provides some relatable intimacy in otherwise grand and fantastical surroundings, however that is about as far as we can connect with this shallow and somewhat spiritless picture. There is one magical moment, however, where Clary somehow pulls a real life cup of coffee out of just an ordinary book – and as enticing as that may seem, even if it could happen in real life I still very much doubt it’d tempt me into purchasing these particular novels any time soon.