The Movie Man : "Mortal Instruments" misses the mark
September 3, 2013, By Tim Fak, Over the past week, it seems summer has decided to give us one last blast of scorching heat before retreating for another year. As usual when it’s too hot to go outside, I can often be found taking in a film in a nice air conditioned theater. While this is usually a fine way to beat the heat, one’s experience is only as good as the film one takes in, and unfortunately this week my film going outing was a disappointment as I saw the latest cinematic adaptation of a popular young adult novel series: “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones”. While adaptations of such books are now numerous enough to practically be their own genre, the results both artistically and commercially have been a mixed bag, with the latest entry coming in firmly on the bottom end of the scale, despite being a fairly respectable adaptation of its source material.
The rather complicated plot centers around the adventures of Clary Fray a seemingly normal girl who unwittingly stumbles into a secret war between supernatural forces and a group of secret demon hunters in the shadows of New York. Along the way, she also discovers that she has previously unknown personal ties to the mystery she finds herself embroiled in as well as some equally mysterious secret powers that make her a target of both sides in the war.
Now she must choose a side in a conflict she doesn’t understand, try to solve her mother’s disappearance and above all simply stay alive. It’s something of a melding of elements from Twilight, Harry Potter, and the works of Dan Brown. Perhaps amazingly, sometimes those things actually manage to go together, although more often than not they don’t. Really though, more than anything, this film is merely exposition for later entries in the series which will presumably be forthcoming.
The Mortal Instruments represents the 2nd major starring role for Lily Collins following last year’s “Mirror, Mirror”. She’s a fairly capable star for this sort of material but is greatly overshadowed by Jamie Campbell Bower as the male lead who is really the breakout star of the film. Bower has cut his teeth in this particular genre with a supporting role in some of the Twilight films as well as proving to be quite a formidable talent is more serious fare such as the criminally underrated “Anonymous”. Of all the performances from the young cast, his was definitely the strongest. Speaking of the rest of the cast, it includes such familiar faces as Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Lena Headey, C. C. H. Pounder, Kevin Zegers and an unfortunately underutilized but nonetheless great Jared Harris.
The biggest strength of “The Mortal Instruments” is probably the fact that it makes a pretty fair attempt at being a faithful adaptation of its literary source. While this is a move sure to please fans of the novel (though of course there are some changes as with any film adapted from a book), it also serves as the film’s biggest flaw and a textbook example of why a film must be plotted differently from a novel. Basically, the film is mostly exposition, with about two thirds of its running time given over to who’s who, who’s doing what, why those things are happening, and what’s going to happen in the future. Additionally, a great many loose threads and small sub plots are inserted which do nothing except bog the film down further and serve to confuse the casual fan. A lot of the time, this film feels more like an advertisement for the next installment than a story in its own right. The proverbial pair of shears and a blue pencil would have most definitely been welcomed here.
If that didn’t harm the film enough, on the rare occasions when the film does get around to action, that action is clunky and uninspired. Usually, we just get a bunch of shaky close-ups that serve to show us nothing of what’s supposed to be going on, but hey, at least they’re always set to pounding music so we know we’re supposed to be excited. It’s supremely frustrating when the film goes from long stretches of nothing much happening to short stretches where we can’t tell what’s happening.
The one area where “The Mortal Instruments” really does shine is in its design work. Put simply, there’s a lot of really cool looking stuff in this film. The monsters look cool, the settings look cool, and the photography is even a cut above what we usually get in these young adult pot boilers. This film may not have entertained me in any kind of a narrative sense, but it sure entertained my eyes, and occasionally my imagination.
“The Mortal Instruments” is rated PG-13 mainly for fantasy violence.
Overall, I just can’t say I enjoyed “The Mortal Instruments” at all. It was nice to look at, fairly well made, and a reasonable effort as far as adaptations go, but in the end it just got too tangled up in a hopelessly complicated and overly expository plot to be much fun. Still, fans of the book might enjoy it, and it’s not the absolute worst of its genre I’ve ever seen. When all is said and done though, those strengths are much too flimsy for this one to warrant a recommendation from me.
Rated 1 ½ out of a possible 4 stars.