After the wild success of Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games it only makes sense the movie studios would rush out to grab any and every young adult and kids level book series with any promise or decent sales figures. Nothing wrong with that from a business perspective. These books have a built-in audience, which tells the studios there should be a reasonable expectation of a certain level of ticket sales. The real danger is it can fail horribly if the movie is not adapted well, especially when you are looking down the barrel of a three-to-four book series. Franchises will not continue if the first film fails to make it off the box office launch pad. That brings me to our current adaptation, looking to pick up the torch of the young adult franchise wars.
The Mortal Instruments – City of Bones is the first of a six-book series (final book due out in 2014.). It surrounds a young girl named Clary, who finds out her mother had a dark secret passed down to her. A power to see not only demons and all sorts of nightmarish legends, but also the people who hunt them. After being recruited into a group of these Shadow Hunters, Clary struggles to help them find a magical cup that grants the person who drinks from it incredible powers. Along the way, she also must decide where her loyalties and loves lie, in the real world or in the fantasy world.
I’m going to put this right out front: this is far and away above Twilight, pretty much in line with the first Hunger Games film, and better than certain volumes of the Potter franchise (mainly books one and two.) The action sequences, character design and overall scenic look of the film are very well done. The goth kid-cum-demon hunter is a fun look, sort of a junior version of watching the Blade trilogy.
The casting of these hopefully long-lasting characters was done with care. Lily Collins (Clary) takes the helm as the young, naive fish out of water. She definitely has a certain charm about her, a presence on-screen that is natural, but there are moments here where she relies to heavily on the Ryan Gosling method of success (just staring off camera in deep thought.) Robert Sheehan plays he lovelorn best friend Simon, the human element in the film. He’s mainly there to represent the audience, one character on-screen to give us the outlet for saying, “What the hell is going on here?” He’s good, very reminiscent of Jay Baruchel in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Jonathan Rhys Meyers tops the “well-known” bill by playing the main villain, Valentine. He doesn’t show up until the last quarter of the movie, giving his usual intense performance: a sort of stoicism laced with psychotic rage. The breakout performance here is actually from Jamie Campbell Bower, who plays possible love interest and main Shadow Hunter, Jace. He has a power on camera, an intensity that matches well with Meyers. He also gets to balance his character between brash badass and playful protagonist, which always makes for a more interesting character.
On the down side, this movie suffers from the curse of the “origin story” that all franchises deal with. Running at just over two hours long it has to set up all the stories and plot lines that will continue through the franchise, if the other movies actually ever get made. The danger in that is if you don’t make sure to make the first movie tight and enjoyable enough, there will be no audience waiting when the next chapter comes around. There are a ton of questions and scenarios introduced here, but very few actually tied up, so the movie comes off as long and mostly unfinished. I haven’t read the books, so I can’t say what I would have left out, but the movie could have benefitted more from a ninety-minute running time more than complete accuracy and allegiance to the source material.
The Mortal Instruments – City of Bones isn’t bad and it makes me curious for what the next chapter will bring, but I’m not convinced this chapter set the bar high enough to call for the money it will take to get the second one made.