Jace Wayland: Remember when I said I’ve never seen an angel? I lied.
In the world of cinema, there will always be a new series geared towards teens, or so-called “young adults”. They explore themes of first love and sexual awakening, parental problems, friendships and loss. No matter what the stories seem to be about, be it young witches and wizards or vampires and werewolves, there will always be something to keep the demographic occupied. While TWILIGHT was taking the world by storm with it’s innocuous love story involving what might just be the most uninteresting female lead character in modern fiction, another series was quietly appealing to those who wanted something a little, let’s say, darker. So now, almost seven years after it was first published (as “Harry Potter” fan fiction!), Cassandra Clare’s CITY OF BONES, the first novel in THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS series, has come to life on the big screen.
After an evening spent at a coffee shop poetry reading, Clarissa (Lily Collins) and best friend Simon (Robert Sheehan), make their way into a nightclub, which has a bizarre runic marking on the sign that only Clarissa can see. This odd symbol has been haunting her and curiosity invites her to investigate. As the two enter an industrial-goth club (looking easily like something out of THE CROW) a murder takes place that only Clarissa, and a select few, can actually see. This sets forth a series of strange events and she begins to see people, specifically a blond haired “Shadowhunter” named Jace Wayland (Jamie Campbell Bower), whom her friend Simon cannot see. While confronting Jace about these bizarre happenings, her mother is violently attacked by two men in their apartment. When Clarissa returns home, their place is destroyed and her mother is nowhere to be found. Thus, this seemingly ordinary girl is thrown into a very unordinary situation.
CITY OF BONES follows a rather typical hero’s journey so what comes next is really of no surprise. Slowly, Clarissa begins to learn about her family history and the city she lives in. Underneath its surface there are werewolves, vampires, witches and demons, and the very people she thought she knew and trusted are not what she believed at all. Below the bustling streets of New York City is the ominous City of Bones itself. And so begins her journey to find her mother and to find out who she truly is, before the evil forces take complete control of everything.
For those who felt that the TWILIGHT series lacked the gumption of a juicy supernatural tale, THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES might just be what you’ve been missing, even if you don’t fall into the “YA” category. While it does stumble into many of the same tropes we have seen in teen targeted fantasy (supernatural creatures, teenagers making their relationships far more complicated than they need to be and often lame dialogue), what works strongly for CITY OF BONES is that it doesn’t shy away from violence and sexuality. This creates the feeling that director, Harald Zwart is aiming for an audience who are a bit more mature.
CITY OF BONES puts danger front and center in its urban location and forces its characters to deal with it as it comes. When it does come, it’s a fun and adventurous ride. The action sequences in CITY OF BONES are plentiful and they are played out extremely well. As the group of Shadowhunters fight off a horde of vampires in a derelict and apltly named Hotel Dumort, a pack of werewolves suddenly join the brawl. It’s both messy and exciting. While much of it may seem like a teen version of UNDERWORLD, there is much in the movie for older audiences to enjoy here as well, even if it is marketed towards a younger crowd.
During the few times when the cheesy dialogue takes over, there is still much to admire in CITY OF BONES. Filmed right here in our amazing city of Toronto, the streets of Parkdale have been turned into New York City, and a magnificent cathedral (called The Institute) appears out of thin air. This Shadowhunter safe house is dripping with detail, which is enough to please any theatre goer with a keen eye. The costumes are beautifully stylish nouveau goth, which help to complete the overall aesthetic of the movie.
At its very core CITY OF BONES is a coming of age tale about a young woman discovering many truths about the world she lives in, and sometimes those truths are dark and hard to swallow. When Clarissa eventually comes face to face with an extremely powerful and evil Shadowhunter (Johnathan Rhys Meyers), he talks of preserving the race. Fantasy novels have given birth to half-bloods, mudbloods and now mundane’s, the name given to those who we know as humans. It’s interesting to see that eugenics seem to rear its ugly head time and time again in young adult fiction, although I personally can’t see why.
THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES is an excellent first entry to the series, one that I walked out of feeling incredibly pleased. It reminded me slightly of BEAUTIFUL CREATURES in some ways, a film that received pretty unfavorable reviews upon its release (but not from me). While CITY OF BONES is directed at fantasy loving young adults who crave adventure and magic, there is no denying that older fans of the genre, (perhaps ones like myself who started reading the Harry Potter series in their teen years back in the 90’s) will absolutely find a certain charm to this tale. Its maturity and dark tone give it the slight feeling of a horror fantasy movie, but it isn’t scary, just a lot of fun the whole way through.
How many sheep would you give The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones?