August 30, 2013

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)

"When her mother disappears, Clary Fray learns that she descends from a line of warriors who protect our world from demons. She joins forces with others like her and heads into a dangerous alternate New York called Downworld."

Based on the YA fantasy-horror novel by alleged plagiarist Cassandra Clare, "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" is yet another wannabe "Twilight" replacement which has turned out to be a huge flop at the box office. I can't say that I'm surprised.

Since I'm not a reader or a "young adult", I've never heard of the series of books which this movie is based on before. I also have no idea if the allegations of plagiarism against the author are true or due to "cloning" and homaging, but either way, "The Mortal Instruments" appears to be little more than a bland conflation of "Night Watch" (2004), "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", "Percy Jackson and the Olympians", the "Prophecy" series, and a plethora of clich├ęd offerings from the "demon-hunting" subgenre. Ironically, given that "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" is produced by Constantin Films, there's a very slight feeling of "Constantine" (2005) about this too. Unfortunately, that's where the good stuff ends.

"The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" is overlong at 130 minutes, and pacing problems don't help to alleviate the boredom between brief and confusing action scenes. Harald Zwart's previous effort, "The Karate Kid" remake, also suffered from the same issues, but it's probably not entirely his fault this time. I imagine that producer and author interference influenced things quite badly; conflation of characters, casting choices, accent changes, rewrites, and the desire for a PG-13 rating to get more asses on seats were all contributing factors.

Thus, "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" is a visually pleasing big-budget production, but if you think that "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy is bad news for your bladder, this movie will literally, figuratively and actually bore the piss out of you too. I lost track of the number of toilet breaks I needed, but I think it was over half a dozen. The two cans of Rockstar which were necessary to keep myself awake took their toll, but at least I didn't wet myself like I did during "The Golden Compass" (2007), and I didn't miss anything important either.

Clary and creepy Jace share a mundane moment.

The cast of pretty "teenagers" do okay in their roles although Jamie Campbell Bower (who has been in the finales of the Harry Potter series, and played Caius in "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn") is quite creepy-looking as Jace. Not looks-wise but accent-wise, he's very Paul Bettany, which brings up another irony since the star of the show, Lily Collins, was also in "Priest" (2011).

As she's not really a teenager, there's no problem with complimenting Lily Collins for being hot as Clary. Hell, even if she was sixteen instead of twenty-three, Phil Collins' daughter would still be pretty, and there's nothing wrong with saying so. She's slightly upstaged in the sexiness department by Jemima West as Isabelle, but she uses her huge eyebrows and nearly always open mouth to good effect. The "teeth and eyes" acting-style strikes again, albeit slightly less so than in typical teen soap operas. I also have to mention here that there's nothing more confusing than older actresses playing younger "jailbait" characters, so be prepared to feel as grubby as I did for ogling them. Or not, as the case may be.

Apart from Robert Sheehan as scrawny Simon gratuitously taking his shirt off, there's nothing for girls to see here unless they like their Jacob substitutes to be less ripped. Needless to say, his underdeveloped bare-chestedness did absolutely nothing for me, and I didn't like his character.

Kevin Zegers (recently in "The Colony") is very underused as Alec, yet he's got nothing to be ashamed of. Being unconscious on a bed for half the movie covers a multitude of sins. MILF-tastic Lena Headey is wasted even more since she disappears very early on in the story, and several other underwritten characters also suffer from clearly being reduced to bit parts for their respective actors. "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" truly equals "The Twilight Saga" in trying to pack too much in and rushing through the characters, and that's its downfall.

The problem with any of these "Young Adult novel" adaptations is not only that "Young Adult" is a curiously self-contradictory term and genre which pleases nobody—least of all its target audience—but that characterisation is never a strong point. It's hard to care about characters just because they are pretty, especially if there's none of the fleshing out which presumably occurs in the original literary medium. Having never read a "YA" novel in my life, I can't honestly say if the authors of these papery abominations make more of their "Mary Sues", and I'm not prepared to infantilise myself to find out. Just judging them by their movie adaptations, everything from "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" through to "Beautiful Creatures", "His Dark Materials", "Camp Half-Blood" and "The Hunger Games" must be some very low-brow reading material in the first place. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Sexy Isabelle has a big pair of swords.

As an aside, I don't care how much flak I get for it, but the unrequited gay love triangle which I assume to be one of the selling points of "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" is very bizarre and completely out of place in a movie (or book) meant for little kids. Most of the target audience simply wouldn't understand it except as an insult, or they might not notice its insidiousness at all, but others are surely going to say, "What?"—and therein lies a problem. For me, the trendy, politically correct acceptance of homosexuality shown here as something completely normal rather than applicable to a minority is about as realistic and subtle as decorating half the cast with tribal "magical sigil" tattoos. It's controversial propaganda aimed at an age group which shouldn't even have a sex life, and it's not done in way that provides any explanation for differences from the norm. Briefly mentioned as it is, the Achilles-Patroclus thing comes across as contrived as an episode of "Torchwood", especially as there's another more traditional, heterosexual, and "age appropriate" love triangle going on. If you really want children to see gay romance in a movie, you should let them watch dramas such as "Another Country", "My Beautiful Laundrette" or "Brokeback Mountain", not a kiddified action-adventure/supernatural-fantasy. No? Maybe it's they're R-rated! It's not worth pressing the point however, because there's no sexual tension or chemistry between anybody in this movie. It's all very tame.

With the MacGuffin-laden plot taking a back seat to the equally superficial teen romance, "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" reeks of blandness throughout. Rather than losing focus, it never has any to begin with, and it has no vitality, inertia, momentum or any other words which you can pull out of a thesaurus to describe its lack of "oomph". Maybe if the producers had gone for an R-rating instead of a PG-13, some realistic violence, goriness and horror could have spiced things up considerably more than the borderline adult dialogue and situations, but I highly doubt it. The bad guys are so underplayed that there's never any real threat to the safety of the main characters, and as I already said, it's impossible to care about any of them anyway.

"The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" is insipid, often tedious, and confusing with it, so I don't recommend it at all.

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