MRR Review: “Mortal Instruments: The City of Bones”

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A young girl inherits an ability to see and interact with a clan of supernatural spirits in this 2013 fantasy adventure drama directed by Harald Zwart. Based on the first book of the New York Times' bestselling fantasy series by Cassandra Clare, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones stars Lily Collins, Lena Headey, Jamie Campbell Bower, Jared Harris & Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
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MRR Review: “Mortal Instruments: The City of Bones”

Rating: PG-13
Length: 130 minutes
Release Date: Aug. 21, 2013
Directed by: Harald Zwart
Genre: Action, Adventure, and Drama

If movies are anything to judge by, there are no human teenagers left. These days, every seemingly ordinary teenager turns out to be a vampire, a werewolf, a witch, an angel, or some other supernatural being. Given this trend, it was probably only a matter of time before author Cassandra Clare's series of supernatural YA novels ended up on the big screen. As with "Twilight" (2008) and several of the films in the "Harry Potter" franchise, "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" seems destined to be more popular with audiences than with critics.

Clarissa Fray (Lily Collins), who goes by Clary, thinks she is just another teenage girl growing up in Brooklyn. Like most protagonists of fantasy films, she has no clue that she is anything special. Mostly, she hangs out with her mildly nerdy friend, Simon (Robert Sheehan). One evening, Clary witnesses something that nobody else can see: Shadowhunters, mysterious half-angel warriors who protect the mortal world from demonic threats.

By total coincidence, the Shadowhunter who first approaches Clary is a good-looking and age-appropriate love interest. Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) is blond, chiseled, and enigmatic. Soon, sparks fly between Clary and her guide to this new world. As it turns out, Clary really is something special, and not because of SAT scores or blog popularity. She is a descendent from a long line of Shadowhunters.

Big trouble is brewing, as it often does in supernatural YA tales. Clary's mother (Lena Headey) has vanished from their home. It appears that the villain behind the kidnapping may be Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), an untrustworthy character who wants to get his hands on something called the Mortal Cup. Along with Jace and two other Shadowhunters, Alec (Kevin Zegers) and Isabelle (Jemima West), Clary sets out to learn how to use her powers. Her main goal is to rescue her mother, but of course, the actual quest is bigger than she realizes. All she knows is that her destiny is greater and more difficult than she ever expected.

The film's plot is sometimes confusing. Even with a run time that tops two hours, the movie has an endless need for exposition. The audience must learn everything right along with Clary, and it can be a lot for new viewers to take in. While fans of the book series will already feel right at home, director Harald Zwart could have made a little extra effort to create a newbie-friendly experience. After all, if this film is successful, there are five sequels potentially waiting in the wings. That leaves plenty of time for ironing out the more minor details.

Teens who are still smarting from the end of "The Twilight Saga" and the "Harry Potter" franchise may find a haven in "The Mortal Instruments." Clary is an interesting enough heroine, even if she lives in the intimidating shadows cast by Hermione Granger and Katniss Everdeen.

The movie is definitely not a fresh addition to the lineup of adolescent fantasy flicks. However, certain tropes show up in books and the movies they spawn for good reason. The battle between good and evil is an enduringly popular premise. So are the young person with uncertain lineage and the mysterious and attractive stranger who introduces the protagonist to an unexplored side of the world. It is probably impossible for anyone with an interest in sci-fi or fantasy to watch "The Mortal Instruments" without making a dozen mental comparisons to films such as "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope". Even if they are not totally original, though, the elements work together in an entertaining way. Sometimes, taking known formulas and combining them in new patterns is the best way to draw crowds to the theaters.

In the end, "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" captures the eternal appeal that makes supernatural YA franchises so popular. Almost every teen goes through a phase of wishing to be set apart from his or her peers, spotlighted by some impressive secret power. Where Harry Potter and his pals deal with "muggles," Clary and company call normal people "mundanes." This vaguely unflattering term is indicative of the film's overall attitude. While adults may enjoy the film's suspenseful action scenes and little nods to mythology, this is a film that caters to a brooding teenage demographic.

Rating: 3 out of 5