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Title :The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)
Release : 3 January 2014
Runtime: 2h 10min
Genre :Action, Fantasy, Horror
Stars :Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan
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The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013) trailer
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013) review
Androgynous young men with liquid eyes and creamy English accents are as essential to teenage fantasy films as alternate worlds and complicated glossaries. And if they possess supernatural powers — like the ability to wear head-to-toe pleather without sweating uncontrollably — so much the better.
In “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,” the lead androgyne is Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), blond and lithe and so pillow-lipped that you want to nap every time you look at him. Jace is a Shadowhunter — part human, part angel, all sex appeal — a being who, like Keanu Reeves in “Constantine,” hunts down demons and rubs them out. Though Shadowhunters and their prey are swarming all over New York City, regular folks, or “mundanes,” can’t see them — a cloaking courtesy that’s likely to be wasted on New Yorkers, who would probably just roll their eyes and move on.
Not so Clary (Lily Collins), the film’s redheaded heroine, who spies Jace and two associates at work in a crowded nightclub and is suitably alarmed. And seriously attracted. Juggling both emotions, Clary learns from Jace that she, too, is a Shadowhunter; that her mother (Lena Headey) is more than just a stay-at-home artist; and that the longtime downstairs neighbor (C C H Pounder) in their Brooklyn brownstone is really a witch. These days even access to magic can’t compare to rent control.
Based on the first book of the young-adult series by Cassandra Clare, “The Mortal Instruments” raises our hopes with early scenes of relaxed naturalism that allow the actors — most of whom deliver the goods — to work without tripping over digital effects. Ms. Headey, who has taken her protective-mom persona from the much-missed “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” to the scary extremes of “Game of Thrones,” makes her few lines of dialogue count. And Robert Sheehan plays Clary’s besotted best friend, Simon, with a wry modesty that deserves more attention from the script.
And he probably would have received it had the screenwriter, Jessica Postigo Paquette, not been obliged to shoehorn a week’s worth of exposition into two hours and change. Faced with the book’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to the supernatural — an ever-shifting feud of werewolves and warlocks, vampires and assorted demonic entities — neither she nor her director, Harald Zwart, have the luxury of dwelling too long on any one character or plot point. As a result, too much of the film feels like shorthand, a trail of teasing crumbs to lead us to the inevitable sequels.
Suffering most from this compression is the movie’s big bad, Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), an evil Shadowhunter searching for a magic artifact to further his wicked plans. Saddled with silly speeches and an array of little pigtails stuck to the back of his head, Mr. Rhys Meyers (more intimidating by far as Henry VIII on “The Tudors”) struggles to bring gravitas to a character who’s never as frightening as some of the film’s fashion choices. The high warlock of Brooklyn (Godfrey Gao) may be bread-and-butter bland, but his tiny shorts and tall heels cast spells of their own.
Excessively busy and occasionally cheesy (a tropical garden hookup between Clary and Jace, complete with plaintive pop music and an on-cue sprinkler soaking, provoked hearty guffaws from my fellow viewers), the bustling plot sacrifices clarity for density, and emotional resonance for flirty one-liners. References to “Star Wars” and the Harry Potter and Twilight universes pose less of a problem than the increasingly messy action scenes and an overabundance of main characters, more than enough to fuel several franchises.
At the same time, the director of photography, Geir Hartly Andreassen, strives to avoid the alienating palette of too many digitally dependent films, the sludgy browns and yellowed whites that turn human skin into parchment and actors into avatars. Washing his rich jewel tones in a softly tarnished glaze, he gives Clary’s world a warmth and texture that ground the character and invite us in. Without him, not even the possibility of a high warlock’s wardrobe malfunction could entice us into the sequel.
“The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). A bit of heterosexual kissing, a hint of homosexual longing and a creatively deployed frying pan.