Rated: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones – A New Take on the Supernatural Film Genre

The Basics

Set in contemporary New York City, a seemingly ordinary teenager, Clary Fray (Lily Collins), discovers she is the descendant of a line of Shadowhunters, a secret cadre of young half-angel warriors locked in an ancient battle to protect our world from demons. After the disappearance of her mother (Lena Headey), Clary must join forces with a group of Shadowhunters, who introduce her to a dangerous alternate New York called Downworld, filled with demons, warlocks, vampires, werewolves and other deadly creatures. Based on the worldwide best-selling book series.

Director:    Harald Zwart
Writer:    Jessica Postigo
Actors:    Lily Collins, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Jamie Campbell Bower, Lena Headey, Kevin Durand, Jared Harris.

Fresh New Take on the Supernatural Film Genre

The first book in author Cassandra Clare’s young adult series mega hit has been on the NYT Best Sellers list for a staggering 100 weeks. That’s saying something. With a built in loyal fanbase, how can a studio go wrong? The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is a story about a secret world hidden within our world. In the #TMI world all the stories of supernatural realms and creatures are true. There really are angels and demons. Thank goodness there are Shadowhunters because the world will need them to annihilate the devil monsters and win the epic battle between good and evil.

Just like YA literature has changed, movies for teens have changed and rapidly evolved. A slew of movies have risen showcasing a strong female hero, slaying monsters, having fun, being romanced by hot guys and saving the world. The powers that be must have realized that audiences are savvy and are tired of the same old damsel in distress storyline. They must have been reading Robert Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess and taken a page from his famously classic children’s book on girl power at its finest. And what a smart move it was.

Gone are the whey faced, simpering misses of yesterday. Enter heroines that are being called role models and Clary Fray of TMI is one of the best. City of Bones might be in the same genre as Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, but it’s as different from Bella and Edward’s story as apples are from oranges, so don’t dismiss it. And in this post Harry Potter era, we need fresh like we need air.

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Author Cassandra Clare Weaves A Masterful Tale

What I enjoyed most about this movie was the world, the fast and furious pace of the film right out of the gate, the characters and the ancient themes given a 21st century makeover. It was just cool. Epic-cool. I’ve read alot of young adult novels. Alot. So I know the genre very well. I like to indulge my inner perpetual teenager often. Theology, legends, myths, all these themes and anthropologic ideas, concepts, histories and stories have shaped mankind down through the ages.

In a world filled with technology and great films like Elysium and The Matrix, it still fascinates me that as a civilization so advanced in so many things we still have a trench deep belief and obsession with the arcane. I can easily see why readers of this series are addicted and transfixed. It’s because Clare transports you into Downworld. Like non-Mundane Clary, our eyes are opened and a fantasical plane is revealed. I have to tell you I was rapidly suspending my disbelief and slipped eager and willing into the world the masterful author created. It was like being enveloped in the Five-Dimensional Door, a water bubble-like magical portal in the story.

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The story is irreverent, daring, riveting, and demonstrates clearly a master at the top her craft in the same league as the authors of Graceling (Kristin Cashore), The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) and Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling). The religious themes are very familiar. But the new perspective Cassandra Clare gives us is so fresh, so new, so blaringly different that I understand the seductive allure of her perspectives on tradional theological ideals and relics. She dares us to imagine more and stretch our minds to the what if?

Young adults of this generation are extremely savvy, they know what they like and they know what they don’t like. They don’t want archaic and antiquated. They want archaic elements mixed with esoteric knowledge,  forward thinking, progressively tantalizing, exciting, thought provoking entertainment and escape. Out with the old and in with the unique. Anything but the mundane. 

If that perspective isn’t refreshing, I don’t know what is.

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City of Bones brings new meaning to the words devil dogs and hell hounds. It’s confirmed for me that the kitchen really is a dangerous place and I will never look at a fridge the same way again. Lily Collins (Mirror Mirror, Priest) as Clary rocked it, while the quirky and uber talented Jamie Campbell Bower (Anonymous, Camelot, Twilight Saga) was magnificent as usual as Jace Wayland, Shadowhunter extraordinaire. The relics like the Mortal Cup — ahem, Holy Grail — were familiar but held fascinating meaning. The runes were such a great element and so intriguing even for those not familiar or into rune lore. A gay character who is not the quintessential gay character we see so often in movies, a love triangle, and yes a twist that will make audiences who haven’t read the books go, “Eeeew!” and make acolytes of the series revisit the ick factor.

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Clary’s BFF Simon Lewis (Robert Sheehan) was hilarious — I’m refering to a utterly succinct LOL “Stacy’s Mom” moment that still has me laughing. Unfortunately for sweet Simon, he’s a lovable guy who Clary can’t love romantically since he’s like a brother and firmly entrenched in the friend zone and one third of the disturbingly intriguing yet twisted love triangle. The Gemini-esque siblings Isabelle (Jemima West) and Alec Lightwood (fellow Canadian Kevin Zegers) were Jace’s totally badass warrior wing men. Isabelle was hardcore, and her brother Alec was definitely uber cool and totally badass. When they worked a nightclub room or defended a deserted banquet room they worked it and defended the hell out it, each in their own right like a boss. A nice balance in the sibling dynamic for sure. All are exactly the kind of people you’d want in your posse of Shadowhunters whether you’re slaying demons or battling mean girls in high school.

And let’s not forget Magnus Bane (Godfrey Gao), a fratboy party hound with a penchant for throwing lavish demon parties, parading around in speedos, guyliner and awes-mazing hooded cloaks, with a predilection for showing up at the most auspicious times and changing and saving lives with some killer magical powers. He’s like a magical Nurse Nightingale. And then there’s Luke Garroway(Aidan Turner), the werewolf who has been guarding Clary and Fray forever. Coincidently, Turner also plays vampire John Mitchell in the British version of Being Human, which is an interesting supernatural paradox, don’t you think?

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Fast paced and pared down to essentials to accomodate our collective ADHD, the movie is a character driven story with some great action, fight sequences, FX that were possessed of some definite wow moments and got the job definitely got the job done, and an original and exciting plot. It’s not completely your typical teen chick flick or mundane in any sense of the word. To say it’s fresh is a very fair description. To say you won’t be bored or sickened by an overly romantic love match is very accurate. It’s got the best kiss I’ve seen so far in a young adult novel adapted into a movie, a gross out twist, and some great theological themes and beliefs that will throw audiences off kilter. It’s a very good start to a quest and adventure where the fate of Clary’s mother Jocelyn Fray and mankind rest on the young shoulders of our intrepid team of valiant Shadowhunters.

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So, with such great material, a veritable treasure trove of plot, mystery, hero questing, supernatural deliciousness, tatoos, sex appeal and humor, were there any flaws? Oh, yes. Sadly there were a few.

The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Ugly

Though it got right into the action, TMI did feel like it took the actors about 15 to 20 minutes to find their groove. Yet, not all is lost. There are some great veteran actors on board this supernatural franchise. CCH Pounder (Avatar), Lena Headey (Game of Thrones, 300), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors), these gifted thespians are a font of talent and knowledge so I have faith the younger actors will learn a great many wondrous things. And the vaunted icon Sigourney Weaver (Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, etc…) is officially on board for TMI 2 so wow!

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The film also had its clunky moments, minor continuity issues,and in setting up certain themes and elements for later on in the film it felt like we were being clobbered over the head with it, so that part could have been handled with a wee bit more of a deft hand. And like it’s genre predecessor Twilight, you can tell the big budget isn’t in place quite yet. But I’m sure with a sizeable ROI the budget will rise astronomically. I couldn’t help but think, “Damn, but it must have been scorching hot in Toronto when they filmed this movie.”. There was a lot of sweating going on and some ugly bedraggled appearances.

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There was also the issue with Clary’s mysterious and malevolent father Valentine Morgenstern’s hair. Not as bad as Tom Hanks’ hair don’t in The DaVinci Code, but definitely wrong enough to make me get off the TMI lovefest wagon for a beat and exclaim, “Hold on! Oh hell to the no. No. Hell no.”

And then there is the love triangle. It seems to be a prerequisite in young adult oriented entertainment these days, but it’s also a universal human theme, so it’s forgivable. 

Lastly, there is a moment where Jace — please don’t lynch me female Jamie Campbell Bower lovers — shows his lack of maturity and cavalier emotional defense mechanism that the woman (and mother) in me found annoying in the extreme. Not Jace’s most shining moment, but it is believable because it is his characte’rs nature. And his back story does make this knee-jerk behavior plausible if not endearing. So Jace fans put away your claws and pitchforks ’cause Bower’s super hot, witty and a true warrior in this movie so I can forgive his childish ways.

At least the the humor never fell flat, the love story is exciting because the way its portrayed and played out, and the chemistry between Clary and Jace is hot! Like sizzling hot. And the whips and black leather and tatoos and Bower’s intensely unnerving yet sexy stare… Needless to say, it’s all very, very good.

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At the end of the day it’s the story that will conquer all (it’s always about the story in the end, isn’t it?), and TMI is a story about the ties that bind us, choices, duty and betrayal, and the relationships and love that define us as much as it’s about Clary’s inheritance of both her mother’s magical abilities, the hero quest, and the knowledge of where the Mortal Cup is hidden. This Mortal Instrument also happens to be the one and only thing which can make new Shadowhunters who aren’t dedicated to destroying demons by birth and bloodline.

The larger than life characters, the completely realized three dimensional world will slay the nonbelievers and doubting Susans and Thomases, is what will garner success for City of Bones and will prevail at the box office. It’s a great first installment to a series and a film that can actually stand on it’s own. And the good news for The Mortal Instraments fans — City of Ashes has been greenlit and prep has already begun on the second film in the #TMI franchise. Yay! Fellow #Lilyians rejoice!

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The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is in theaters now!  What’s your take on it?

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Images and video: Sony Pictures