Every since Harry Potter ended, there’s been a big scramble to take the title of ‘massive teen movie franchise that makes ridiculous amounts of money regardless of quality’. Twilight is obviously the series that snatched up that crown very quickly, but they made the mistake of making the majority of the series before Harry Potter released so it was only around for a few years before they ran out of story. The Hunger Games seems like the strongest contender, since it was a smash hit and, shock horror, was actually pretty good. So here comes along The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, which is trying so hard to be the next Harry Potter you can practically see the screen straining with the effort. With it’s modest budget of $60 million, lack of real big name actors (or crew, for that matter), and not much advertising save for some posters around, this film contains every warning sign in the book of a hasty cash-in rushed out to hopefully start a new franchise. And it’s a good thing it has those warning signs because that’s exactly what it is.
Clary (Lily Collins) is a typical New York teenager…except she isn’t. She’s actually related to a long line of Shadow Hunters, a group of elite demon hunters that are tasked with ridding the world of evil. That may seem like a really rushed synopsis, but it actually fits quite well, as all these elements are introduced unbearably quickly. There’s no time for us to get introduced to the characters or get a feel for the setting, it’s all just crammed in as fast as possible so we can get to the sappy romance subplot.
The story itself is possibly one of the most unoriginal things I’ve seen in a while, with pretty much every single element being ripped off from something else. It borrows so heavily from almost every popular fantasy and sci-fi franchise of the past 30 years it’s difficult to find anything that they did on their own. The most obvious influence is, of course, Harry Potter, but it puts me more in the mind of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, what with it’s line of super-warriors fighting evil in an urban environment and snarky dialogue (some of which actually gets a legitimate laugh). One thing it should have taken from Buffy and didn’t was it’s strong, identifiable characters, arguably that show’s biggest strength. All the characters are completely two-dimensional cutouts that have no depth whatsoever and are only there to serve the shoe-horned in love triangle. They even start up a second love triangle at one point, with one of the demon hunters being implied to be gay and in love with the leading man, but that’s mentioned in a total of one, maybe two scenes and is never brought up again and never gets a conclusion. It’s a shame, because that would have at least been a little bit interesting and different, as it’s something you don’t normally see in this kind of film.
The acting is, surprisingly, passable, with Lily Collins proving she can handle the role okay, and it feels as if she could have been great if she had better material, which she is sorely lacking. The stand-out of the entire cast is the leading man, Jamie Campbell Bower, who forgoes the usual brooding, self-centred love interest for a snarky, sarcastic, deadpan Englishman who is a welcome change to all the Angel wannabes we’ve been seen recently. Most of the good lines go to him, and it’s a shame this film wasn’t better written because the character really could have been fun and could have carried the film on his own. Combine that with a criminally under-used Jared Harris as the substitute Dumbledore and you have a mostly good cast that can’t spread their wings because of the awful writing.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones will most likely join the other teen movie misfires of recent memory (The Host and Beautiful Creatures come to mind), and if it gets a sequel I will be very surprised. It’s unoriginal, cheap-looking (seriously, this is some of the worst CGI this year, even worse than Olympus Has Fallen), badly written, and far, far too long at 130 minutes. It’s a pity, because some elements have potential, but most of it is just a boring slog that was just made to cash-in on the space left by Twilight.