Harald Zwart’s The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is yet another attempt at building a teen-fantasy/romance franchise in our post-Harry Potter, post-Twilight cinematic world. Creating a successful film franchise is the Holy Grail of the movie business these days, in pursuit of which quality isn’t necessarily a factor. The past decade is strewn with solid, forgotten teen-fantasy flicks that never caught on, and judging from The Mortal Instruments flaccid box office, it looks like we can add another one to the ever growing pile.
The film is a shameless mishmash of Potter fantasy and Twilight-style romantic melodrama, but with certain aspects that are so out of place as to be curious. The plot revolves around Clary (Lily Collins, Mirror Mirror), a normal teenage girl who discovers that she’s the child of magic-wielding demon hunters and gets thrown into a world of the supernatural. Luckily, the last active demon hunters (affectionately named Shadowhunters) are mostly young adults around the same age as Clary — and all have a penchant for dressing like ‘90s industrial goths.
Most of the movie concerns Clary learning the truth about her past, while attempting to track down the Mortal Cup — an ancient, long-hidden artifact that mustn’t fall into the hands of the evil Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Said cup has the power to turn normal people into Shadowhunters. Originality is obviously the film’s bête noire, but this stuff almost works — at least for a little while. The strange goth vibe is odd but entertaining (at least accidentally), and the movie isn’t above poking fun at itself. The set design is nicely thought out, which, combined with the cinematography, makes for an often attractive film. Even the ersatz Hans Zimmer score is effective, while aspects of the film — like the demonic rottweiller — are surprisingly horrific for such a teen-centric movie.
The problem is that most of the amassed goodwill peters out around the halfway mark when The Mortal Instruments flops into a mess of teenage melodrama. The numerous love triangles are laboriously set up, and feel like they only exist because, well, that’s what Twilight did and look how much money it made. Then there’s the never-ending climax that runs all over the place for about 20 minutes (it might’ve been longer; dear lord, it definitely felt longer) before being kind enough to lay down and die. In the end, there’s a handful of weird, interesting aspects, but it’s not enough to overcome the film’s general — and probably innate — lousiness. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action, and some suggestive content.
Playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande