Being based off a book series that on its best day can’t lay claim to anything in the vicinity of originality was always going to make City of Bones an uphill battle. Even though they don’t ever attempt anything out-of-the box, or break new ground, The Mortal Instruments books are always a lot of fun. The characters are well drawn, the story is well constructed and it never takes itself too seriously. This film never actually fully hits any of those notes, and it tries so hard to draw in a newer audience that it sacrifices the integrity of the original story. It’s all a little sad, because the better parts of this film are shrouded in badly delivered dialogue, and contrived moments of romance.
I don’t know when the studios are going to pick up on the idea that the generic love-story just doesn’t sell tickets anymore. Beautiful Creatures, despite being a pretty decent film, faltered because of its inability to sell the differentiating parts of its story. Though the trailer for City of Bones doesn’t really make it seem like it’s the film’s focal point, it was never really sold as anything over the board. The film isn’t any better with this, either, with the central romance turning away any potential audience outside the books original fan base and every single line of attempted swoon-inducing falling flat.
The film is all over the place in trying to explain the original story, cutting corners in strange places, and ruining the original “twist” by attempting to change the audience perspective on the whole thing. The exposition isn’t as clunky as I had initially thought, though, with flashbacks falling into place nicely, and helping to fill in the big text heavy parts of the book. The action is fun to watch, despite never really being fully rationalised. The special effects are pretty cool, too, and they make the film’s action sequences even more entertaining.
Casting was a huge problem here, but I wouldn’t say it was ALL wrong. Lily Collins is incredibly likable, and embodies Clary better than anyone could have asked her to. Lena Heady is perfect as Clary’s mother, Jocelyn. Supporting cast members Jared Harris, Jemima West and Kevin Zegers, despite their limited screen time, all feel like the right choices.
On the other hand, Robert Sheehan looks the part, but he camps Simon up unnecessarily. Godfrey Gao is pathetically mundane (this review need at least one of those puns) in the books’ most fascinating and outlandish character, Magnus. Jonathan Rhys Myers is probably the worst casting choice, not just because he’s a huge contradiction to the character originally envisioned, but because of his inexplicable choice to ham up the series villain Valentine beyond recognition. It’s like the man took a class in juvenile acting 101 before he stepped on set. As for Jamie Campbell Bower, he tries, he really does, but it’s a little hard to take him all that seriously.
Honestly, I think I sent my expectations to high with this one, and that was after I had read the scathing reviews. I wouldn’t say that all the hate is justified, though. I enjoyed the majority of the film, and for fans of the book series I think it’s something you have to see for yourself, but the film’s flaws really hurt City of Bones in a way that similar films with more rabid fans could take. Considering the box office takings so far, I don’t think one last not-so-nice review is going to hurt, but I still feel guilty that critical backlash is hurting the chances of City of Ashes making it on-screen. But there’s no excuse for banal film making.