The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones Review
Ever wonder what the illegitimate love child of Harry Potter and Twilight would look like? Wonder no more.
It has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I suppose that is true in some circumstances. Having worked for years in the t-shirt business I can tell you there is a lot of flattery going on when t-shirt companies rip off designs from each other with alarming regularity. However, this is something that people say when someone imitates your idea and comes out with something better (or at least competitively equal). What we have here is less imitation than it is repetition (or perhaps regurgitation).
I have been told by several of my more literate friends that author Cassandra Clare is a writer who borders on competent and who’s books actually have something of interest rather than being uber trite brain damaging garbage spewed out from her fingertips, unlike a certain author who shall go nameless in this review but whose name may or may not sound like Mephanie Steyer. Apparently her main character in this series is more than a two dimensional, bland cute chick with all the appeal of moldy bread and her love interests are more than sizzle chested man/boys who cover the screen with metrosexual good looks and estrogen. This may or may not be true, but if it is then she has been done very badly by director Harold Zwart (the Karate Kid, One Night at McCools, Agent Cody Banks (really??)) and screenwriter Jessica Postigo (no prior film credits). The two of them look like they swallowed the Twilight punch and have set up a franchise distribution business. Does this sound familiar? A cute but otherwise unremarkable (in literally every sense of the term) chick discovers a world of mythical creatures and magic where she is torn between the love of a safe and familiar friend and a hot and dangerous magical newcomer who wants to induct her into his world while fighting against evil super villains. Oh, yeah. There are vampires and werewolves in here too.
Let me talk for a minute about the screenwriter Jessica Postigo as she relates to a phenomenon you only see in Hollywood (for the record I don’t know her or her work. For all I know she could be the next William Shakespeare, although based on my one experience with her writing I sincerely doubt it. Zombie Shakespeare is from our zombie t shirt category). If I had a budget of $60,000,000 (this film’s estimated budget) to build a new business and someone came to me and said “We have a person who has never done anything like this in your industry and has no track record whatsoever but we think she would be great at it” I would have that person killed and his or her head placed on a pike outside of my office as a warning to all the rest of the idiots to not waste my time. Yet somehow in movie making multi million dollar productions find people with no experience whatsoever and give them the keys to this Exxon Valdez. Honestly, take $1,000,000 and hire a team of the best writers in movie history to make your film. Writing should not be treated like a minor technical position.
Anyway, this turd. The issues are extensive and since I have no life I will list them all in detail. The biggest one is that this film suffers from the condition known as Nocluus Nocarrus. In other words, if you didn’t read the book you have no idea what the hell is going on and therefore will never care. What grinds is they had not just one but two perfect opportunities to explain everything through extensive fish-out-of-water exposition with the main character and her man-friend eunuch. What do demons really hope to accomplish? Do they have super powers or are they just gross? They seem to go down pretty easy to swords and knives. Do Shadowhunters have super powers? How to those tattoos work? Do they drain your life force or have a cool down, or can you just use them with impunity? If so why would you not cover your body with them? Are vampires super human too? They also seem to go down to a quick knife in the gut pretty easy too. Are vampires and demons immune to guns? If not why are you idiots running around with swords instead of Kalashnikovs? Especially when in the last half of the film one of the Shadowhunters starts running around with a m-f-ing flamethrower! If flamethrowers work why don’t you all carry them? For that matter how does a flamethrower work against demons who seem to made from molten lava? Why did Jocelyn not take the magic cup and create like 10,000 Shadowhunters to kill Valentine? Again, what does being a Shadowhunter do for you other than make you think BDSM Goth is the fashion to go with?
Sigh. Next up up characters. The only character I felt even the slightest connection to was Simon, Clary’s man friend, and that was only because he got punched in the face with the let’s-be-friends speech so hard I think his parents felt it. Having suffered through more than a few reiterations of that speech (by a couple orders of magnitude. Just this week a girl I have been attracted to for a long time told me how she went out last week, had a couple beers, and hooked up with some random dude. Let’s just say the next Warhammer player who crosses my path will suffer for that) I felt his pain, but other than that he was another drip in a sea of drips. The main character is a bland little whiner who contributes next to nothing to the film except to give the camera something to focus on. The “hero” is a blond pretty boy you will hate from his very first scene. He looks like exactly the dude who shows up at your party, drinks all your booze, smokes a bunch of pot in your living room, vomits into your bed and pulls the covers over it, and then cuts out with the pizza and the girl you were into five minutes before the cops show up. He has two facial expressions: I’m Bored and I Just Sharted But Secretly Don’t Care. He’s also the guy I really hope to run into at my next Fight Club as I know in spite of his washboard abs (shown extensively) and the fact that he’s at least 20 years younger than me I could break him like a tongue depressor. Too girly to really be an action movie guy. The mother is a non-entity and her man friend (I’m starting to get a clear understanding of the male relationships Cassandra Clare has in her life) is a werewolf (yep) who is basically there to provide the red shirts. The other Shadowhunters are The Angry Chick and The Angry Dude, although I will give this movie props for having a couple of gay characters.
Then there is the costuming. The costume designer obviously gets a discount at Hot Topic, as Goth is the word of the day. Ever wonder why martial artists wear loose cotton gi’s? If you ever tried to kick someone in the face wearing leather pants and thigh high boots, or fallen onto your studded leather jacket you will understand why. If these kids are more or less invisible why not walk around in full body armor? Also the Shadowhunters all have symbolic tattoos that give them powers that (I’m not kidding) look like they were drawn on with a Sharpie. Once I noticed it I couldn’t help but look for it in every scene and it was driving me nuts.
Naturally the CGI sucked, which is weird as I hardly see that anymore in any film with more than a couple mil budget. It’s something of a novelty these days. It has been years since I saw the sideways pool of water as a magical portal trick (1987, to be exact. Prince of Darkness by John Carpenter), and the rest of it nothing to write home about.
And finally, the story. OMG awful. Nothing seems to have a reason for anything. The romance felt completely forced and unnatural, like Joseph Stalin’s attempt to breed ape human super warriors (no joke. Google it). Most of the scenes were expository dialog, but instead of explaining what the hell was going on it was all bad romance and tertiary crap. The secondary plot seemed even more worthless than the first. And the whole thing ground on for an agonizing 130 minutes.
Another film where I am 1380 words in without even getting to the story. Clary (Lily Collins-the Blind Side, Mirror Mirror, Priest) is a teenage girl living with her artist mother Jocelyn (Lena Headey-Dredd, the Purge, 300) in NYC. She is haunted by a symbol of some kind and keeps drawing it, something of concern for her mother and mother’s man friend Aleric (Harry Van Gorkum-the Karate Kid, Batman and Robin, Gone in 60 Seconds). She goes out with her own man friend Simon (Robert Sheehan-Misfits, Cherrybomb, Season of the Witch) to a suicide poetry reading (in other words, listening to this poetry makes you want to commit suicide) and on the way home stop off at a club. They are let in by a Goth guy who turns out to be a demon, but before they can talk to him the demon is killed by Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower-Sweeney Todd, Rocknrolla, Twilight), a Shadow Hunter.
The next morning Jace tracks down Clary and talks to here while her mother is kidnapped by some Goth thugs (the fact that her mother has been kidnapped is pretty much forgotten by Clary for most of the rest of the film). Jace takes Clary and Simon to their castle in NYC where she meets the other two Shadowhunters (Kevin Zegers-Dawn of the Dead, Wrong Turn, Frozen and Jemina West-Lines of Wellington, the Messenger, Play it Like Godard) and the head guy Hodge (Jared Harris-Natural Born Killers, Lincoln, Sherlock Holmes: a Game of Shadows).
Bleh. Recounting this story is giving me a rash. I’ll speed up. The bad guy Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers-Match Point, Bend it Like Beckham, August Rush) wants the magic Shadowhunter cup that Jocelyn hid in order to do something (?) with demons. Everyone else wants the cup for some other unspecified reason. Clary has her memory blocked by her mother and they have to visit the Wizard of Brooklyn (Godfry Gao-101 Proposals, All About Women, the Queen of SOP). Simon gets kidnapped by vampires, who in this film don’t speak and are pretty much evil henchmen for someone (?) and go down by the bucketful. They are rescued from the vampires by werewolves (who are good henchmen also for someone(?)). Stuff gets blown up, there are a couple of obvious twists, Jace temporarily gets possessed by the spirit of Moe from the Three Stooges, Clary is revealed to be the magic queen of bad tattoos and two dimensional hiding stuff (as well as two dimensional acting), and a lame plot twist is revealed that makes the romance possibly even more creepy and contrived than it already was.
I suppose I have to give the film credit for at least having action happen often enough to earn it’s PG-13 rating. One star. Lily is super cute, and at one point (for literally the most contrive reason of all time) they find an excuse to dress her as a super hot hooker. One star. I did glean some amusement when characters (appropriately) made fun of all the Goth clothing (I can’t decide if that’s the movie sincerely poking fun at itself or just an attempt to draw in kids who don’t think vampires are super sexy). One star. Total: three stars.
The black holes.
Where to begin? The fact that the writers assumed that we the audience each wrote a PhD thesis on the book and know every detail going into the theater. One black hole. I hated all the characters in this film (some more than others) and was really hoping they would all die (and ironically, none of them did. Hope I didn’t just spoil the film for you). One black hole. A bonus black hole for the blond man/boy, whom I especially hated. One black hole. The romance in this film made me wish for the sweet, sweet kiss of chemical castration. One black hole. The Goth clothing was nothing short of ridiculous. The costumes the Strangers wore in Dark City looked more real, functional, and believable. One black hole. Crappy story that I couldn’t care less about. One black hole. Crappy CGI. One black hole. Tattoos that looked like they were bought out of a vending machine at Denny’s. One black hole. Twilight rip off, complete with vampires and werewolves. One black hole. A million blatantly ignored questions. One black hole. A bunch of sub plots hinted at and then ignored as well (again, maybe if I had read the book). One black hole. Paced like watching old people f…requent a local dining establishment (what did you think I was going to say there?). 130 mind numbing minutes. One black hole. Overall a complete failure to entertain me or give me the slightest reason to care. The entire cast and crew could fall into a sink hole and it wouldn’t phase me one bit. Two black holes. Total: fourteen black holes.
A grand total of 11 black holes. A crap score for a crap movie. I don’t know. From what I hear the source material is better than this so perhaps they could have done better, but it looks like the studio had Twilight fever and this is the result. Any reason to see it at all? Sure, if you read the book and/or love Twilight and wish to return to robot love and machismoly challenged “men”. Perhaps you just had brain surgery and need to avoid thinking too much and/or non dark images gives you a migraine. Do you work at Hot Topic and want to feel like your life and job are not a complete drain on American culture? Write a bitter little movie review blog and are looking for something to make fun of for a couple hours in order to make up for your feelings of inadequacy? These are all perfectly valid reasons to see this film. Otherwise give it a pass. NetFlix is fine on this one. Date movie? Sure, if she loved Twilight. If she suggests it you can probably convince her that after suffering through this bomb the least she can do is reward you with a sexual experience. Bathroom break? At 130 minutes you will probably need it, if only to vomit. Any of the romance scenes would be great, especially the Three’s Company-esque moment when Jace is walking Clary back to her bed and finds Simon in it. Actually your brain would thank you for missing that whole sequence starting with the walk in the roof garden so take a few minutes to make sure you got everything out, grab a smoke, and run upstairs to punch the projectionist in the head.
Plenty more to see soon. Too late tonight so maybe tomorrow. Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu. If you have comments on this movie or my review (please comment if you disagree on this one. I love a good laugh) feel free to post here. Off topic questions or suggestions can be emailed to email@example.com. Have a great night.
P.S. Where the hell did the title of this movie come from? They mentioned the City of Bones like once and looked at it for about 20 seconds. The rest of the time this film was all about the City of New York. Lame.
P.P.S. I just checked and this film flopped badly its opening weekend. The theater I was in was pretty empty for a Saturday on opening weekend, so I’m not surprised. Most of the audience was laughing at things I’m pretty sure the director didn’t really think was funny. Also I forgot to black hole this film for really horrible dialog, so I guess they get a pass on that one.