Review: The Mortal Instruments – City of Bones ★★★★☆

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Autumn is nearly here and the last of the summer blockbusters have been and gone. Now starts the time of more moderate-budgeted, hit-or-miss films, among which is the big-screen adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s bestselling series: The Mortal Instruments – City of Bones. Considering that this will be perceived as a movie mostly seen by fans of the books, City of Bones offers some good entertainment, with enough action, romance and laughter to see us over till Christmas.

The film is set in New York, where teenager Clary (Lily Collins) witnesses a murder that no one else can see. Shortly after, her mother (Lena Headey) is abducted, and Clary is forced to join forces with the witty, sarcastic, Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), who informs Clary that she is not a human. Like Jace and her mother, she is in fact a Shadowhunter: a half-angel, demon-slaying hybrid, created by drinking the blood of an angel from the Mortal Cup. Clary’s hunt for her mother soon leads her to a search for the Mortal Cup, which must not be allowed to fall into the hands of evil-Shadowhunter, Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), for reasons that are never really explained in the film. In fact, between Clary’s missing mother, the hunt for the cup, and all the other problems which appear throughout the film, it’s quite difficult to keep track of what’s happening.

Nonetheless, City of Bones is still a joy to watch, even if it is tricky to understand. There are many scenes of fast-paced, exciting action, with gruesome demons, ferocious wolf-men, and even a flamethrower. Director Harald Zwart knows how to keep a film gripping, ensuring that there is never a dull moment from start to finish. However, by the end there are still a lot of loose ends that don’t get tied, questions which are never answered. Perhaps Zwart plans to explain these in a sequel? It’s worth remembering that this was also the plan with The Golden Compass sequel that never got made, and it would have been nicer to give the film a neat ending.

city of bones 2I imagine that people who have read the book will be able to understand and follow this film with more success. For the rest of us, we will have to wait until half-way through and listen intently just to learn what the characters’ names are. More explanation is definitely needed. Things like ‘Downworlders’, ‘the Clave’ and ‘witchlights’ were mentioned in passing with only a brief explanation, which makes one wonder why Zwart even bothered to include them at all, especially seeing as they were mostly irrelevant to the plot.

Overall, the acting is good. Lily Collins is a strong, confident lead, and her chemistry with Jamie Campbell Bower is pleasing to watch. Robert Sheehan, who plays Clary’s best friend Simon, shines with his witty lines and startled facial expressions. But unfortunately, not all the cast is as convincing to watch. Jonathan Rhys Meyers was a little too aggressive as Valentine, and failed to give him an edge over other fantasy film villains. Luckily, his character only comes in at the end of the film, when the plot has overwhelmed us all anyway.

Disregarding the confusing plot and the cliche villain, City of Bones is very enjoyable, with interesting ideas, a fun cast, and a brilliant, original twist. It is a refreshing change to see a teenage book adaptation on the screen that isn’t completely centered around romance, and I will await the sequel with great anticipation.

The Mortal Instruments – City of Bones (2013), directed by Harald Zwart, is released in the UK by E1 Films, Certificate 12A.

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