Review: ‘The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones’ is Bad, But Watchable

By August 21, 2013
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Since the Twilight Saga concluded last November, a number of similarly themed movies have sprung up. For the most part, these films crashed and burned at the box office. Beautiful Creatures, a lighthearted tale about a teenage girl who’s a witch, couldn’t lure viewers despite an impressive cast and The Host, an alien love story produced by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer (and based on her novel), was barely in theaters for a couple of weeks.

But that doesn’t mean that book-to-screen adaptations geared towards younger audiences are a dying breed. The Hunger Games found a loyal fan-base (critical acclaim may have had a hand in that) and the zombie love story Warm Bodies warmed a fair share of human hearts when it debuted earlier this year.

So where will The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones fit into all this? Well, if moviegoers pay attention to the scathing reviews the film has been earning, odds are it won’t be turning into a new franchise.

Based on the six part series by Cassandra Clare, the film follows Clary, a Brooklyn teen who suspects something strange is going on in her world. She draws weird symbols in her sleep and it’s clear her mother (Lena Headly) is hiding something from her. When she meets a charismatic stranger adorned in leather named Jace (Jaime Campbell Bower) her suspicions are confirmed. She is no ordinary gal. You see, the tattooed Jace is a shadow hunter (aka demon killer) with the power to become invisible, and the fact that Clary can see him means she may be a descendant of demon-slayers herself.

When her mother is kidnapped, Clary – along with her awkward friend Simon (Robert Sheehan) – joins forces with a group of half-human, half-angel mortals, who protect mundanes (regular folks) from the demonic world.

Of course, Clary and Jace find themselves attracted to one another and of course, to make matters complicated, Simon is into Clary while Jace is being pined for by another shadow hunter, Alec (Kevin Zegers). To add to that, Jace’s no-nonsense sister Isabelle (Jemima West) may or may not carry a torch for Simon and a renowned warlock (Godfrey Gao) seems to be repressing some love for Alec. Phew! It’s exhausting.

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Alright, so the movie is bad. Anyone who’s seen the trailers has probably already determined that. But here’s the thing: there are bad movies, and then there are bad movies that are watchable. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is the latter.

Collins and Bower do their best with the ridiculous premise they’ve been given to work with – particularly Bower, who has a unique on-screen presence. The entire thing is utterly ludicrous, but in the same way that something like Showgirls or Johnny Mnemonic is. Many of the lines are laughable for all the wrong reasons, but there are a few that are genuinely funny. You’ll likely find yourself melting into a puddle of giggles when the music-loving Jace informs Clary that Johann Sebastian Bach was a shadow hunter.

The special effects are abysmal, and though City of Bones is supposed to be set in New York City, it’s beyond obvious it was shot in a more filmmaker-friendly city like, say, Toronto. But despite its many flaws, by the time the film gets to the point where a dreadlocks-sporting Jonathan Rhys-Meyers has popped out of a wall portal, you may have found you accidentally enjoyed yourself.

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Justine Browning
Justine is a film and culture reporter whose work has appeared in USA Today, Indie Wire and The Huffington Post. She currently serves as an on-camera correspondent for MovieWeb and Cine Movie TV.