Movie Review: “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones”

ImageThere is most certainly an audience for the film of “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,” fans of the six (planned) novels about demons, supernatural demon fighters, vampires, werewolves, witches and warlocks.
They’ll thrill to all the endless litany of runes, talismans, history and “rules” of this world of shadowhunters descended from an angel that showed up to help crusading knights a thousand years ago. They’ll eagerly await the brief, throw-away visit to the “City of Bones” (a cemetery) of the title.
And if you love exposition and shapely if bland young actors in leather, skinny jeans, knee boots, Goth cocktail dresses and heavy eye makeup, this may be the movie for you.
Lily Collins is Clary, the birthday girl whose mother (Lena Headey of “300”) never told her about her heritage, why she keeps seeing signs and people with great hair stalking and stabbing demons in night clubs and what not. Clary, dragging her unsuspecting admirer Simon (Robert Sheehan) along, finds out.
She was born into this world. Simon? He’s just a “muggle.” Sorry, “mundane,” a clueless human.
They learn all this from the mop-topped warrior-explainer Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), who drives a Triumph motorcycle, flirts with Clary and has the tedious job of explicating every single thing to them and to the audience.
“All religions assist us in our battle,” he says as they rummage through the demon-killing gear stashed beneath a New York church altar.
“Magnus Bane. He’s a warlock. I should’ve known,” he mutters. Of course.
The shadowhunters fight “a war that can never be won, but must always be fought” the leader of their “Institute” (Jared Harris) teaches. We’re invited to draw our own parallels to modern battles against terrorism.
Sometimes, vampires interfere. Sometimes, werewolves help. Johann Sebastian Bach’s contrapuntal compositions play a part. Homoerotic come-ons play into the love triangles set up here.
A magical cup, a “mortal instrument,” is sought by good guys and bad (Jonathan Rhys Meyers).
Cool effects? “The Portal” is a watery door to points in space and time, and the runes — tattooed over the arms and chests of theshadowhunters, glow when they’re doing their runish thing.
It’s a stilted, silly mishmash of earlier fantasy  franchises, with the occasional decent joke and frequent brawls involving swordplay andbackflips.
Director Harald Zwart has “Agent Cody Banks” and the recent “Karate Kid” among his credits. Which tells you the best they’re hoping for here is a “Percy Jackson” level of success. This franchise’s fate was sealed when bargain hunters Screen Gems got the distribution rights to it.
And there’s no stopping them. “City of Ashes”, a second adaptation, is due out next year, probably dumped in late August, just like this one.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action, and some suggestive content
Cast: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Jemima West, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Lena Headey
Credits: Directed by Harald Zwart, written by Jessica Postifo, based on the novel by Cassandra Clare. A Screen Gems release.
Running time: 2:1

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to Movie Review: “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones”

  1. Robyn says:

    Have you ever read the series? Obviously not your only basing your review on the movie. I love reviewers who know nothing about the history and depth of the story and they somehow come up with a biased I opinion on what they think a good teen movie consist of. It makes me laugh. There are some very talented a tots/actresses in this movie who have stared in previously hit movies. So next time you critique a movie do your research!

    • Here’s the thing — fans of the novels fill in the gaps that the movie stumbles into and inadvertently cut the material slack because it’s including what they have been so anxious to see visualized on the screen. But the film has to stand on its own.
      I’ve sampled enough of the books to get the tone and an appreciation for the “Chasing Harry Potter Cash” ethos behind them.
      This was a flat, dull experience. As a movie.

      • Robin says:

        Sampling and actually reading the books are two different things. Cassandra Clare’s written words are not just words there poetry on a page. You can’t trash a movie and not know anything about the series.

      • Robin, dear. Seriously. Grow into Faulkner and you’ll sound less silly.

    • Casandra says:

      You are right they should read the books befor reviewing it

      • Naah. Again, the movie has to work/stand on its own. I read half a book, sometimes. If you know the book too well, you’re impatient, waiting for that next bit that you know is coming. The story should surprise you. This one? Not so much. And no, I didn’t read much of the book.

  2. Michael says:

    As a fan of both the movie and the books your critique really disturbs me! Can you seriously say the stunts and special effects were not that great? Did we watch the same movie? Obviously your in the wrong career because your critiquing deserves some critiquing. The mortal instruments for those who don’t know is not another twilight or Harry Potter it’s a stand alone series. There are no similarities between the two unless you count there are vampires and werewolves which can be seen and read about in almost any paranormal novel. I as a fan was amazed and truly proud of the work Harald Zwart did. I can’t wait for the next instalment. So keep critiquing and ill see you in the unemployment line.

    • These are more products than books — Riordan, Rowling, et al. And “Mortal Instruments?” It’s derivative. Look the word up. While you’re looking up the difference between “your” and “you’re.”

      • Michael says:

        I don’t need a lesson on grammar to know what consist of a good movie and what doesn’t. Obviously you need a lesson on time management because your review was a big waste of time and thought. Oh wait there was no thought you just totally made up your mind as do others every time a new movie comes out its automatically a HP wanna be or twilight. Even though Stephanie Meyer herself praised the series.

      • These “series” are all crap on a cracker, sport. A Meyer endorsement? Please. Fine for tweens and young adults. If you’re over 23 and reading this drivel then it’s time to go back to comic books and work your way up again.

      • lee says:

        You’re absolutely right in your critique, nevermind the fan boys and girls. I’m an avid fan of the horror and supernatural genre. Never read the books but was intrigued by the theme. Saw the movie quickly lost interest with the cliched bad guy is the father of good guys and the weird love interest amongst brother and sister. This movie is just overly convoluted and weak, does not deliver satisfaction on
        any level. Also the ending was a joke as were the whole werewolves sideshow.

  3. Ronnie says:

    Okay. I am a fan of both the book and the movie. I do think that you have made your point, about the books’ similarities to other fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal movie franchises. We can’t deny that as teenagers, we barely see the bad things in the movies we watch, especially film adaptations of the books we love. Since it is a film adaptation, our reaction would be a bit biased. I don’t want to discredit you as a critic, because I know that you must be experienced and you must know your stuff to be credited. I will not judge your critic simply because you gave a bad comment against something that I like. But I would like to point out that you shouldn’t predict anything about the next installation. It MIGHT be better, though I doubt that if we were basing how good it is in your opinion. I know that you are right about most of the things that you said. I actually learned a thing or two about what critics look for in movies. Thanks for your honesty and I appreciate the lesson

  4. Daie says:

    Just watched the movie last night and I must say it was Amazing! Critiques can say what they like but as a fan of the books and now of the movie I can truly say it was worth the wait.

  5. I really dont know if i should be polite or just speak my mind but here it goes:

    Obviously you have not read the series but suggest you do, it might change your mind! and because of that you judge the movie based on simply the movie alone, now Cassandra Clare is an amazing author who got to her readers hearts with the amazing world and characters she created, young novels are an inspiration for young people as well as people of every age. It creates magical worlds inside peoples heads and thats why its so good! it might not be your taste and that’s fine but you can’t just judge if you know nothing about it! I’ve read the whole TMI Which stands for The Mortal instruments series and TID which stands for The Infernal Devices (yeah because like I said you know nothing about) and its simply amazing!

    Now I’m gonna be rude because this is my inner demon coming out to protect the best book series ever written!

    You don’t like it?? Tough sh*t Nobody asked you opinion! And I’m sure that a lot of people will say a load of crap like they said about Twilight but deep inside they like the series!
    Another thing I don’t get and you lot say all the time is that its sh*t and yet you all go watch the second, third and however many movies there is! So get lost you hipocrate! Don’t like it? Then don’t watch it and shut up!

  6. Ashley says:

    I respect your review but obviously like everyone else, I don’t agree with it. I do understand if you have not read the books the movie probably doesn’t make as much sense and that is definitely one flaw they should fix. But, your review is basically critiquing a movie you obviously didn’t understand. You basically went into it annoyed and already expecting it to suck. I feel as though you didn’t pay attention and kind of just sat there bored, and that is what’s wrong with you. A critic should have an open mind to anything he or she watches. Even though the movie may sound dumb, they shouldn’t have already decided it’s fate. Maybe you should work on that my dear friend.
    Good luck

    • It’s getting uniformly poor reviews. The whole world is wrong, made up of idiots. And you, friend, enjoy your mediocre, disposable children’s lit. You’re the first reader to make me feel that the comic book crowd has found somebody to look down on.

    • Let’s take your last couple of remarks seriously.
      If the studio thought it was great, they should have released it BEFORE August and summer supernatural cinema fatigue had set in. They needed a ruthless editor and director to thin the tedious tons of exposition. They didn’t spend the money on that, either. If the review’s heavy on exposition, that’s nothing compared to the movie.
      Most people haven’t read the books, so mentioning the Potter/Percy/Twilight analogs is fair game and a way of making a meaningful comparison.

  7. Ellie Smith says:

    I can’t believe I just read that. It’s as if you haven’t even seen the film. I for one read all the comments and I agree with all of them except your replys. Next time you watch a movie try to keep your eyes open, because this one is nothing like all those ‘Twilight’ and ‘Harry Potter’ because it’s unique. And all the actors a brilliant.

  8. thecrwng7 says:

    I can’t actually credit a source such as this to have any actual weight associated with critique– the review was a massive droll to read and a poor recollection of an “I feel eh about this movie” synopsis. I also have to mention the bad form of interacting with your readers in such a negative and pretentious manner. Not so good of a display to go with a mostly ambiguous review that isn’t too pleasant to read.

    Long-winded posts that bear no weight are usually driven by a personal agenda. Granted, paranormal genres and urban fiction are not aimed at the massive majority, regardless of the fact that they have taken off and received a lot of attention. It’s clear this genre isn’t your cup of tea, so why bother? Your explanation only regards one cinematic experience and makes no other notable references except for…Harry Potter? Having the overall influence of magic in a movie doesn’t create good form to plow it over with a weak juxtaposition simply because, as with most pieces of this genre, magic might be involved. I had better hopes for this review.

  9. tiffanie says:

    um this review is totally Wrong. I am not going to argue with someone but if you are going to review on a movie thats based on a book then you should really read the book first. The movie was way better then half the other movies based off books.
    And other then this comment I refuse to argue.

  10. Melissa Ann says:

    Personally, I find that most “critics” tend to be high on themselves and their way of thinking and low on anyone else’s opinions or likes. Nice to see you have not strayed from that stereotype. As an English teacher with a Master’s degree, I began to read the series after a student suggested it to me. It is important as a teacher to know what interests your students. I’m nearly 40 and I love the books which I understand you have not read. After all, you are not a book critic are you? Neither is it your job to try and get the next generation interested in reading or caring about anything academic in school whatsoever. Good thing that is my job.
    I went to see the movie today and though it is not as good as the book, movies never are, it wasn’t bad. Some of the characterization and relationships were a bit incomplete and clumsy but not horrible. There was only one actor I was disappointed in but this actor is also not at all well known. Some of the actors actually surprised me with how well they performed. The sets were fantastic and the fight scenes were much better than I expected. I do think there were some things missing and those things mostly revolve around the characters and their relationships. I do not believe these things are a consequence of poor acting but problems with having enough time to fit everything in. Having said all this, I understand that the most sensational, rude, inconsiderate, and nasty critics are the ones that usually get their work in the numerous media outlets you have provided for our information. Congratulations. Politeness is overrated right? Oh, and let me thank you ahead of time for any lovely reply you may post. I’m sure it will be full of compassion and understanding.

    • If you read the review, you’ll find that we aren’t that far apart on this. BTW, brevity is the soul of wit.

      • Melissa Ann says:

        Oh, so you do read? Shakespeare, how…unusual. So shall I leave you a quote from another great author.
        “My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel–it is, before all, to make you see.”
        Oh, and let me add one other. “Any woman who is sure of her own wits, is a match, at any time, for a man who is not sure of his own temper.”

    • God, Melissa, I hadn’t realized how many long-winded rants you were posting here. That’s a cry for help. Or a more-used library card.

  11. Hermine says:

    this movie was amazing and the book series are awesome and critics are being stupid stop comparing it to twilight its has if every fransise happens you compare to twilight well stop and just because you say its silly doesn’t mean people will listen to you! look at all these comments on how they are disagreeing with you….not so fun is it…enjoy more negative comments on you

  12. Jordan says:

    Honestly I respect what you are trying to say, you obviously didn’t enjoy it. But you don’t have to read the books to enjoy this movie! Although I have read them before going to see it, I went with others who hadn’t. They enjoyed it as much if not more than I had. Did you go into the movie with a set opinion? Now I don’t want to seem like a b*tch or anything but it seems like you did. You didn’t offer a sound explanation about why you hated it so much. This movie is able to stand alone or as a movie to a book. One thing that I don’t understand about you critics is that even if you hated the first one you will go and see the second, and the third and so on. Giving them all bad reviews. And please, just please, STOP comparing them to TWILIGHT and HARRY POTTER. This is a DIFFERENT movie, with so many DIFFERENT things that just make it DIFFERENT……DIFFERENT and AMAZING.

  13. Doris says:

    It was actually better than I expected, direction-wise, and Lily Collins was good. But the script was awful, unsurprisingly as SG never spend money on scripts if they can help it. And whoever put that cheesy song in the greenhouse scene deserves a very special hell.

  14. pamoda13 says:

    I think you went into this film with a set opinion on how it was going to be, writing it off as a teen franchise and leaving it at that. I thought it was pretty well done, and wasn’t disappointing in the slightest to someone who really liked the books. They set up lots of hints for things to come, and all the settings and places were terribly interesting. It looks like to me that most people liked it, if not critics. And isn’t the people’s opinions a little bit more important than those of people who enter every movie expecting to hate it?
    I get that you didn’t like it, and that’s fine. But the books are well read and loved, and the people who read them have read other things. We’re not vapid. There is no need to be condescending. “Disposable children’s lit”? Do you have any idea who important books are to kids? You can’t drop a 10 year old into an ill fitting suit and cynical outlook and shove Hemingway into it’s hands, all right? So you didn’t like the movie. There is no reason to bash the books or the people who read them.

  15. Chuck Nuts says:

    Much support for the critic’s review. This movie and the source material are purely appealing to the simple minded and easily impressed. It just labors to throw something even more fantas-ma-gactical onto the page or onto the screen before the short attention spanned audience gets distracted by something shiny. This movie is good eye candy for unsophisticated viewers, accept it for what it is and enjoy being unsophisticated. Don’t mistake magical runes and mystical references for substance.

    I enjoy a good fantasy movie and/or book. I enjoy hysterically unrealistic special effects and gravity defying martial arts. I’m not asking for my money back after watching this movie, but it was clearly created to appeal to an audience that only recently graduated from thinking that Justin Bieber and Katy Perry are soulful musicians. Just watch the pretty pictures, enjoy the fleeting trickle of endorphins and don’t take yourself too seriously if you think that this movie is important in any way.

    Fans of this series, please write down your deepest feelings about this movie and how it touched your life, then bury it in a time capsule. On your 30th birthday you can dig it up and read your own words to get a good laugh at how immature you are right now.

    • Jordan says:

      Even if that is true, even if we are immature it is still a part of our lives that we don’t want to give up. But what if, just what if when we ‘dig up the time capsule’ we find that we are not that different? What if we don’t get a laugh, are still the same?

  16. Chuck Nuts says:

    Maybe you are that special breed of person who reaches full maturity in high school; not because you mature faster than everyone else, but because you stop developing prematurely. Try the time capsule experiment and find out. I’ll wager that you will someday look back on this naive time in your life with fondness and humor, but I doubt that you will even think about watching this movie again after the fad has passed.

    In about 4-6 years there will be another teenage vampire/demi-god/wizard/chosen-one series just like this one. Maybe they will use talismans and crystals. Who knows if the werewolves will be good or evil? ….but the story will be the same: young person with a normal boring life, but something’s just a little bit different about this one…. enter dynamic character who reveals a magical new world to the young protagonist who is somehow destined for greatness. Add in a few more characters with extreme personalities; gotta be at least one rogue and one to laugh at. Then everything that you thought you knew is turned upside down through one fantastic revelation or “impossible” accomplishment after another…. followed in about 10-15 minutes by something even more fantastic. Its the basic Star Wars recipe, just executed with much less creativity. I love Star Wars because it was creative and fun to watch, but you never hear anybody getting all pretentious about how reading the book could make the plot anything more than a series of excuses to take an average teenage farmboy and let him save the princess and fly around in a cool spaceship…..but Star Wars was executed much better than this drivel.

    Enjoy this movie for what it is; if you like this style of dramatic fantasy then eat some popcorn and go home with a smile on your face. Anyone who could sit through all of the Twilight movies will probably enjoy this new set of cast members, but I think that the point of Roger’s review is to inform the vast majority of movie-going customers that it has all been done before, but much better by more creative artists.

    Every movie that is derived from a book has an extra level of meaning for the people who read the book, but the movie has to stand on its own or it is going to disappoint the majority of people who pay money to see it.

  17. I didn’t read the book; I wasn’t interested because it seemed over the top. Reading the movie reviews, it seems I guessed right. But I’d like to know how “watchable” this movie is, using a scale of 1-10 where the latest Twilight movie is a 1 and the latest Percy Jackson is a 10. I acknowledge that you don’t think Percy Jackson deserves a 10 in its own right, but this is for the sake of narrowing the field of comparison. I may rent it just to poke fun at it, but even that wouldn’t be worth the time if it’s as bad as the Twilight films. I did enjoy the most recent Percy Jackson film, hence the range I’m asking you to work with. It sounds like it could be tongue-in-cheek “fun” like Buffy or Charmed (maybe it would have been better served as a TV series). Help a girl out. See or sit out?

  18. Amy says:

    I understand your views that the film needs to make sense if it is to stand alone and I believe with the next film they should write it better.
    The actors were amazing, they couldn’t have played the characters any better with the story line they were given. That is where I think the film fails. The film wasn’t true to the book and that is where the downfall was.
    All the cast and crew worked hard and the project and I look up to them for that. The actors did weeks of training before the film and the special effects and action was amazing. I don’t understand how anyone could have been bored.
    Like I said if the people who wrote the film stayed true to the book it would have been close to perfect. If you look at how they adapted The Hunger Games and Harry Potter they have stayed as true to the book as a film could.
    So if they changed the writer and let
    Also the mortal instruments is its own thing, its the shadow world with demons and vampire, but a lot of stories have them to.
    To be honest they should have a new script writer!

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