REVIEW - Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Based on a series of young adult fantasy books, Mortal Instruments follows the "normal person discovers a magical world" formula that's so very popular with girls ages 12 to 30 odd.  

Clary (Lily Collins) is a cute bohemian girl living with her cute bohemian mum (Lena Headey) in their cute bohemian Brooklyn red brick town house, hanging out with her cute bohemian friend Simon (Robert Sheehan) and drinking coffee and being good at art and probably being a vegan.

One night she attends a poetry reading (BOHEMIAN I SAID!) and on impulse wanders into a cool neon goth rave club nearby. You know the ones. Like in Blade. 

Actually it's not really impulse. She goes into the club because she spots a symbol on the sign; a symbol she's been seeing a lot lately. A lot. We're shown close ups of this "rune" five times in the first few minutes of the movie. At one point Clary's mother literally holds a piece of paper with the rune drawn on it up to the camera. What are they trying to tell us?

Inside the club she flirts with a sexy leatherclad goth man, but then witnesses him get stabbed up by another sexy leatherclad goth man. Shortly thereafter she's plunged into a world existing beside her own, where everyone is clad in leather and has a vaguely goth look to them. Also they're sexy.

Because that second sexy goth man, who didn't die and is made even sexier still by his English accent, is a Shadowhunter (demon hunter). His name is Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) and he's smouldering and punk rock and cool. Clary obviously legs it, along with her nerdy best friend (you can tell he's the nerdy one, because of the glasses) but soon meets Jace again when her mother is kidnapped by baddies and Clary herself is attacked by a CGI demon dog left over from The Thing remake. 

After that it's all gothic castles in the heart of New York etc...

I'm gonna level with you here; I didn't like this movie. 

I've never read the books, or heard of them in fact, so I can't say if they stayed true to the text or deviated wildly. I can say that every line of dialogue is either blatant exposition, ranging from "He just happens to be my brother." right the way to "Hey look, she's waking up.", or something that might have looked good on the page but is profoundly stupid when spoken aloud. 

"I can't remember anything she'd want me to forget." actually says Clary at one point, and I think we're meant to think that's quite deep or telling in some way. The amount of Banned Dialogie (lines said in movies which are so hacky and cliche that they've been made illegal by popular opinion) is utterly astonishing. 

"You know all those stories you read as a little girl? ............. they're all true!"

"I said I'd never seen an angel before......... I lied."

Let's do one together. I'll set you up, you finish it off. 

"If I told you, you wouldn't believe me."

"Try me."
"I'm a demon hunter."

Everybody now!


It's not the actor's fault. They're genuinely doing their best and some of the performances are downright good. It's just not easy being credible when you have to claim that Bach was a Shadowhunter and that he wrote certain notes into his music that annoy demons and that he had cool tribal neck tattoos. That part actually made people in the screening titter for a good minute. It was literally laughable.

Jamie Campbell Bower does an admirable job of bringing the one-note "brooding bad boy" Jace to life and giving him a proper personality. It's clear from his words and actions that no such thing existed in the script, so anything worth watching about Jace is all down to Bower. There's flashes of Dante from Devil May Cry in some scenes, and if he had the material to work with he could be great. 

Robert Sheehan is vastly underutilized, and often completely forgotten about. Possibly because he can't decide whether he's Irish or American, but mostly because they couldn't think of anything for him to do. He's supposed to represent the audience in all this, and the fact that he's not present for huge chunks of the film is actually pretty apt. Even so, he deserves way better.

They all do, actually. This movie doesn't merit these actors, and Harald Zwart's direction doesn't merit a movie at all. He cuts too soon or too late, leaving you unsure as to if what you just saw is connected to what you're seeing now. Rudimentary stuff like having characters enter a room in the same order they walked through the door is completely messed up, and often you feel like you might have nodded off and missed a few vital seconds of the scene. The romance is as ham-fisted as this metaphor wrapped in gammon; Clary and Jace finally kiss in a rooftop atrium, only for sprinklers to suddenly activate and shower them both in sexy sexy water. For no reason at all. It's so bad it starts to be distracting.

Ultimately "City of Bones" (which is a place they spend no more than 4 minutes in towards the middle of the movie and is never mentioned again once they leave) is just girl porn the same way 50 Shades of Grey or Twilight is. Clary is you, the viewer (or reader) and she's an artistic and interesting girl who is pursued by and must choose between two different kinds of sexy man. Will you choose the sexy nerd with feelings or the sexy bad boy with tattoos and a motorbike, who whisks you away from your mundane life (the non-magical humans in this movie are actually called 'Mundanes') to a place of fantasy which appears to entirely revolve around you and how secretly special you are?

There's smoking teen love, shirtless boys, unrequited gay slash-fiction and kissing in the rain. Stephanie Meyer would be proud. 

City of Bones is a bad movie, poorly written and directed even worse, with some very good actors in it. Unfortunately it looks as though the sequel, which they were desperately trying to set up all the way through this film, is probably going to happen. 

There were tons of Twilight movies, and now they'll be tons of these. It never ends.

1 out of 5

Words by Gazz Wood

Gazz Wood is a writer from The Northern Film School at Leeds Met University. As well as writing for Wireless he can also be heard on the monthly podcast Possibly of Interest with TV Producer Howard Cohen and special guests from the world of British TV and Cinema, plus his own weekly show Gazz Wood Has A Podcast. He can also be followed on Twitter @GazzPH90