The search for the next great young adult book adaptation phenomenon seems to be never ending. After the unbelievable success of the idiotic Twilight Saga, every major studio seems hell-bent on finding the next big thing. While Lionsgate has managed to find an even bigger successor with The Hunger Games, even that film fizzled in my mind, and I loved the original book. Warner Bros. tried their hand earlier this year with the better-than-Hunger Games, Beautiful Creatures. But ultimately, it was another loss as it failed to find any kind of audience — probably because it was smarter than its target demographic. And so now here comes Screen Gems with their attempt to kickstart another YA series with Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. It will be referred to as TMI from here on out because the film’s Twitter hashtag is #TMIMOVIE — which is hilarious.
TMI introduces us to Clary (Lily Collins), who lives with her mother, Jocelyn (Lena Headey) in New York City. Clary doesn’t know it yet, but she’s about to have a really bad couple of days. After heading out with her bestie and unrequited love-slave Simon (Robert Sheehan), Clary spots a symbol she’s been drawing on a nightclub marquee. Clary talks Simon into going inside — full of goths and emos — where she sees someone in a hoodie murder a seemingly innocent bystander. But not even Simon can see what happened. The next day, Clary wakes up to a room full of drawings of said symbol and sure enough, the hooded murderer shows up and wants to know how she can see him. The hooded stranger turns out to be Jace Weyland (Jamie Campbell Bower), Shadowhunter (i.e. half angel, half human warrior) at large.
Now Jocelyn has gone missing and Jace takes Clary to “The Institute,” run by Hodge Starkweather (Jared Harris), who tells her that someone has blocked her memories, and only Bane (Godfrey Gao) can help her because he is who placed the spell on her for protection by her mother. In other news, vampires are after Clary as well and take Simon hostage, leading them to a big showdown, where they are saved by a pack of werewolves. Oh yes, earlier, we are enlightened by fellow Shadowhunter Isabelle (Jemima West) that vampires, werewolves, and warlocks all exist, but oddly, zombies do not. Finally, Clary, Jace, Isabelle, and her brother Alec (Kevin Zegers), must band together to find out who Clary really is, stop the evil Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) from finding the Mortal Cup which Jocelyn has hidden from him, and save the world as we know it.
Holy cow is there a lot of plot running through the cinematic veins of TMI. And for a good two-thirds of the runtime, there’s enough icky shenanigans to interest even the male viewers, undoubtedly dragged along by their other halves. Unfortunately, director Harald Zwart is directing the worst Empire Strikes Back ripoff imaginable. Let alone that the supposed love story feels completely thrown in at the last minute, as if it wasn’t even in the original cut but Screen Gems made an executive decision that the film wasn’t girly enough. Sure enough, a big scene featuring pretty surroundings, a pop song, and an even bigger kiss, rears its head. And it’s all downhill from there.
Up until that exact scene, I was thoroughly behind TMI. Collins was up to par for making Clary both kickass and fragile, Sheehan’s Simon was believably daft yet tongue-in-cheek, and Bower’s Jace made a nice change of pace with his snarky British attitude. What really brings the film to a screeching halt is Jessica Postigo’s ludicrous finale. Aping everything from Tim Burton’s Batman, to Ghostbusters, and the aforementioned Empire Strikes Back, when a big showdown occurs between two characters after yet another insipid plot twist, you’re dying for one of them to get their hand cut off because if you’re going to be so blatant in your ripping off something like Empire Strikes Back, you might as well go all the way. It’s the same issue as the ending of Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters. That film’s ending was a huge ripoff of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Contrivance rears its head and there’s not one plot twist you can’t see coming a mile away. Unless, you’re the target audience, who undoubtedly have probably never even heard of the films Zwart and Co. are ripping off. Had the film continued down the path of icky shenanigans we were treated to in the first two-thirds, I would have drank TMI’s Kool-Aid and could tell you all that another Beautiful Creatures was on our hands. Even the special effects were a cut above anything out of the five Twilight movies. But alas, all The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones has going for it is the hopes of studio executives waiting to see if the Twi-hards will bite. And they might, considering TMI is far more up their ally if you get what I mean. Anyone else is urged to either stay away or walk out once that big kiss we all know is coming rolls around.
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