With the “Twilight” franchise having finally and mercifully come to an end, it’s no surprise that Hollywood is eager to find something to take its place. The latest tween movie based on an existing novel with multiple entries in its canon is this week’s “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.” While it could be argued that this first movie is somewhat of a gamble, the series has six books under its belt and if it proves to be a success, it could be the next lucrative, never ending franchise we’ll be forced to sit through every year until it ultimately dies. “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games” notwithstanding, most tween novel adaptations are poorly made and fail at the box office, rarely resulting in a sequel. If we’re lucky, this one will fail too and our cinemas will be saved from further ridiculous, overemotional melodramas.
The story follows Clary (Lily Collins), a pretty young girl whose best friend in the world, Simon (Robert Sheehan), is secretly crushing on her. One night, while out at a club, she witnesses a murder. However, the murderer soon catches up with her and explains that it was hardly a murder at all. His name is Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) and he’s actually a Shadow Hunter, a person who hunts and kills demons of all kinds. She soon finds out that her mother, Jocelyn (Lena Headey), is also a Shadow Hunter, but she finds it out too late and is unable to protect her when she is kidnapped by a gang looking for a mystical cup that they believe is in her possession. Along with the help of Jace, Clary sets out to find the cup and get her mother back.
Naturally, a love triangle ensues, as is seemingly common with these types of things. Simon is in love with Clary, but Clary and Jace eventually hit it off, which leads to Simon witnessing them kissing, Clary making excuses and Jace storming off in a fit of rage, bemoaning that she is “dismissing their love,” partly due to the excuse and partly because she won’t invite him into her bed after a single kiss. What a swell guy. This is, quite literally, “Twilight” all over again, though the movie doesn’t seem to want to admit it. At one point, after Clary hurts herself and is bleeding slightly, she even mocks the franchise by commenting, “Is this the part where you start tearing off pieces of clothing to bind my wounds?” This is no doubt a reference to “New Moon” when Jacob hilariously and egregiously rips off his entire shirt to tend to Bella’s minor scrape.
While these moments are nevertheless amusing, they’re offset by lines of dialogue mere minutes later, lines that read like one of those idiotic words-of-wisdom memes so many wannabe prophets post on Facebook day after day, things along the lines of “The rune to fix a broken heart is the most painful one.” So while it creates some initial goodwill with some self-aware quips, it quickly becomes ignorant of just how closely it resembles the very things it mocks. In a nutshell, the film points out the flaws of something like “Twilight” while succumbing to the exact same problems, never aspiring to become anything better.
If it had a story worth caring about, these tween clichés would be easy to look past, but the script is an absolute mess. While the central story is certainly lacking, it’s in its side stories that the film truly drops the ball, never fully concluding any of them despite their initial set-ups. At one point, Simon is kidnapped by vampires and bitten, Clary finding the bite wounds shortly after rescuing him, but the film never follows up on this, nor does it use it as a precursor for what could come in any potential sequels. Similarly, it alludes to the homosexuality of another Shadow Hunter named Alec (Kevin Zegers), an intriguing plot turn that could mix up the usual love triangle romance we’ve become so accustomed to, but once it’s brought up, it’s quickly dropped and never resurfaces. It’s like the screenwriter, this movie being her first cinematic endeavor, had some good ideas (no doubt derived from the source material), but then forgot about them as she wrote on.
If there’s one thing “City of Bones” does well, it is its art direction. This is not a bad looking movie and, in particular, its costumes and make-up are nothing short of fantastic. The design of this fantasy world set amidst a modern day New York City is top notch, springing to life before our very eyes. Yet the movie itself is still a gigantic mess. Although darker and more action packed than many tween movies, it never compliments its admittedly palpable suspense with a satisfying payoff and a mid-movie Star Wars-esque pseudo-twist leads to some of the most awkward moments and dialogue exchanges one can imagine. “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” may hope to become a franchise (and with an already planned sequel in the pipeline, it could become a reality), but it’s going to have to try much harder than this to justify it.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones receives 1/5