Netflix UK film review: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Deserving of a franchise1
Ian Loring | On 23, Aug 2014Reading time: 3 mins
Director: Harold Zwart
Cast: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan, Lena Headey
Watch The Mortal Instruments online in the UK: Netflix UK
Along with the inter-connected comic book movie universe, adaptations of young adult novels seems to be the “in” thing for Hollywood. After the quite spectacular success of Twilight, a series which started with a film which looked made for TV and also featured a key sequence involving vampires playing baseball, studio executives have been busy snapping up the rights to all sorts of properties, which, it was hoped, would attract young cinema-goers, particularly women. However, like the fantasy film bubble which appeared in the noughties after the rampant success of Harry Potter, it seems as if there’s only room for a few of these to capture your attention. For every Hunger Games there’s The Host – and for every Divergent, you have The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.
The Mortal Instruments isn’t so much a film as it is the particularly messy bowel stirrings of a Twilight fan who didn’t think that there were enough supernatural forces in that series. As well as vampires and werewolves, we also have demons, witches and psychics entering the fray – but with a narrative that would defy many scholars to comprehend, the whole thing collapses under the weight of its own self-import.
The plot, such as it is, hits the usual marks for what we come to expect from this still relatively new sub-genre. We’ve got the everyday girl who becomes the focus of a plot involving figures far away from her home comforts. She becomes attracted to a strong, charming guy who has a mysterious past and looks good with his shirt off. He has colleagues who are unhappy with the presence of our heroine, some of whom warm to her, some of whom do not. We also get action sequences involving the various supernatural factions all wanting to get at the Magical Cup of McGuffin, which does something to people if they drink from it, but who knows what?
Adding to the woe is the film’s confidence in its chances at becoming a franchise. There’s quite a bit of sequel setting-up and the fact that screen time is spent on it is a real annoyance; the sense that we are merely watching the prelude to future interminable instalments is pervasive and wearying.
The performances also prove problematic. Lily Collins stars as Clary, who is confident, peppy and spiky when she needs to be. That she is like this from beginning to end gives the impression that there is no growth whatsoever to take place, thus rendering her a reactive vessel that merely runs around while stuff happens. Jamie Campbell Bower spends his time spouting exposition, while looking like a member of Bros and trying to feign some attraction to Collins – he doesn’t do well at either. Robert Sheehan feels miscast as the best friend/slight romantic interest, his comedic energy unused, and, while Jared Harris entertainingly brings to mind a certain horror character towards the end of the film, he is mostly Captain Respectable Leader and nothing else.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is rubbish. A filmmaking-by-committee franchise starter, which wastes the few talents it actually has, this is a key example of what not to do when trying to launch a series. The movie feels machine-tooled for the young adult demographic but, judging by its theatrical box office (and seemingly stalled sequel announced before this even hit cinemas), this demographic has some limits. Good on it.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.