There are few things that readers dread more than the book to movie transference. Say what you will about the dread of a sequel, moving from book to movie is something that almost always causes dismay on even the most menial grounds. And while there have been some marvelous transitions, even marked improvements, as seen in such movies as Fight Club or The Shining (Stanley Kubrick’s version will always reign supreme in this critic’s opinion), more often than not there is little competition as to which version is superior. Enter Mortal Instruments: City of Bones a relatively good Harry Potter fan fiction turned silver screen failure.
Clary (Lily Collins) is a soon-to-be sixteen-year-old living in New York City with her artist mother (Lena Headey) and her step-father Luke (Aidan Turner). Lately, things have been getting strange for Clary though. She’s starting to see a particular symbol at every turn and is even obsessing with it when she’s unconscious. One night, she and her friend Simon (Robert Sheehan) hit a club where Clary witnesses a murder. The odd thing is, no one else at the club sees it. The body even dissolves before her eyes. Soon she’s drawn into the world of Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) and the Shadowhunters, a society that is dedicated to hunting demons and keeping order in the world.
Fans of the book series may as well know this outright: the film version of City of Bones is an incredible failure in comparison to the book. The book reveled in every opportunity it had to play off some Harry Potter gimmick, from flying motor cycles, to secret pasts, hidden societies, coming-of-age powers, lingo, and even character personalities. The amazing thing, perhaps, is how much the movie doesn’t bathe in these troupes. If nothing else, its attempt to try and remain original in the way it presents itself is admirable, if not its downfall. One of the biggest problems being that the film feels so incredibly plain when stripped of its Harry Potter paint job.
The biggest killer to City of Bones is the fact that it moves way too fast. For a two-hour and fifteen-minute movie it felt like everything was rushed. Characters are given absolutely no room to grow or for feelings to develop, especially when you can tell they’re supposed to through awkward dialogue (some of that is to be blamed on awful delivery as well). Secrets are dropped and come out simply because the source material demands them when they reach certain sections of the book. One particular exchange that’s supposed to be both awkward and vicious comes off as stupid and comical. Jace comes off constantly as an anti-hero without ever being given good reason to act the way he does. Clary’s plight can’t be appreciated because there’s never enough room for her problems to build, despite how they chase them throughout the whole movie. Many problems that are meant to build up are solved too quickly in order to advance the plot. The story of Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) despite being one of the biggest obsessions in the book, is hardly touched upon until the end.
All the above aside, the movie didn’t end fast enough.
Performances aren’t enough to save anything either. Both Collins and Bower turn in utterly boring performances. Sheehan does well as Simon but isn’t given enough dialogue to pick up many scenes. It’s Meyers performance that really commands power. The moment he steps on screen the movie suddenly becomes investing. He is absolutely menacing and maddening as Valentine. Godfrey Gao as Magnus Bane is also excellent, though again, not in the movie enough to make it more enjoyable to watch.
If you haven’t read the source material you’re going to feel even more lost than those that have read it. Characters fly so quickly in and out of scenes that they’re hardly memorable. There’s no building up to anything here. Instead the whole movie feels as adolescent as the age of its characters; too inexperienced to really know what its doing. This whole thing is an obvious rush job. Had more time been spent on scenes and developing a script we might have had a decent movie here. If you’re craving a coming-of-age action/adventure then go watch one of the Harry Potter movies. City of Bones is as bare and dry as any bone you’re likely to find.