The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

wogma rating: Add to that never-watched 'To Watch' list (?) - Although I don’t see why you would be keen for this one!

quick review:

Yet another teenage romance disguised with a fantasy adventure setting, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is, at best, a tiring ordeal to sit through. Generous on clichés and borrowed settings and tropes, the only real redeeming quality of the film is that it ends.

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Director: Harald Zwart
Running time: 130 minutes
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The biggest fallout of something terribly mediocre doing well is that it spawns a whole generation of mediocrity based on the same theme, with the aim of cashing in on the mania. The Twilight franchise, then, is the torchbearer for teen romances dolled up with monsters and/or fantastical adventure settings. So Twilight led to another franchise Hunger Games (which, I must admit, was guilty fun) of which the second film is on its way, and the recent other Stephenie Meyer adaptation, The Host.

The latest to follow this trend is The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones – the first film adaptation from a set of books by Cassandra Clare. So exhaustingly inane and utterly ridiculous is the film that when I walked out, I couldn’t believe I had only been in there for only a little over two hours. Now, I’m scared of just how many books are left in the series. This first film hasn’t even had time enough to gather all of its brickbats, but the sequel is already underway.

Clary is a typical teenager with typical teenage problems – or so she thinks. Clary and her geeky best friend Simon get drawn into a world of werewolves and vampires and magical portals; a world where even Bach was supposedly a Shadowhunter and wrote music that could tell a demon apart by its reaction to it – no, I’m not making this up.

Packed with so much exposition, explanation, back-story and mythology, but with clichés that rival all of this in equal measure - the film is such a cumbersome watch. It just never eases up on the levels of idiocy it so inevitably keeps crossing. I haven’t read the source material, so I don’t know; but it seems like a lot of this has more to do with the direction than with the original novel.

Harald Zwart, director of Agent Cody Banks and Jaden Smith’s The Karate Kid, directs this film with what seems like alarming intent to ensure that it never separates itself from the other typical teen movies I mentioned earlier. This is the kind of film where it begins raining indoors in the middle of a kiss. It is, of course, conveniently attributed to something else later, but the point was clearly the kiss in the rain.

The film also keeps giving you a Harry Potter-Constantine déjà vu, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Apart from never being able to shake off the been-there-seen-that feel, the film just doesn’t seem to have an original word in its screenplay.

The film does have some interestingly executed VFX pieces, but that’s just the opposite of me nitpicking – I was left determinedly hunting for anything at all to take away from the film. With its generous display of hooded or skeleton-shaped gargoyles and statues and a camera that continuously seems to want to establish setting with every new scene, the film tries hard to create a sense of foreboding and danger - which I admit does happen once in a while. However, anything good achieved comes undone with the next familiar fantasy-teen-romance-trope or next annoying back-story-exposition that the film takes you through.

It doesn’t help that the performances in the film are as mundane as can be. Even the known faces, Lena Headey and Jonathan Rhys Meyers amongst others, are left with roles that often make you wonder how they kept a straight face through it. The young trio who are left with the task of carrying the film give it their all, but there’s only so much one can do when everything else around is how it is in this film. The film is just so draining and wearisome, that every time you spot the Mortal Cup that everyone’s running after, you wish you had some strong wine to go with; downing a cup would make this film infinitely more tolerable.

This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at

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This page has additional observations, other than the ones noted in the main review.

Parental Guidance:

  • Violence: Generous violence and gore
  • Language: Fairly clean
  • Nudity & Sexual content: One long kiss
  • Concept: Teenager discovers she belongs to race that fights demons
  • General Look and Feel: Dark and mysterious, with a sense of foreboding

Detailed Ratings (out of 5):

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The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones - Cast, crew, links

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Running time:
130 minutes

Comments (1)

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Ouch. Pradeep, all I can say is Meetu took one for the team when she reviewed YAMLA PAGLA DEEWANA 2 - I guess THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES was your turn to do the same....

If ever a Young Adult Fantasy series deserved to have the "Generic" label on it, it's this one - a hash-up of the Twilight, Percy Jackson and Madeline L'Engle's Time Quintet, and not an original thought coming out of any of it. That it got a movie when other more innovative YA Fantasy book series don't, and also that the movie is just as generic as the books are, is only the icing on a very tasteless cake. (Do you have "Generic" products in India - products sold in boxes with basic white or yellow colors, that have no brand names on them or advertising?)

I should point out I know a bit more about this than most Americans because my wife is Tamora Pierce - a popular US YA fantasy author who doesn't have a movie coming out, sadly! We're also friends with YA fantasy author Bruce Coville, who likewise doesn't have a movie coming out. Both their works are a lot less derivative than all these Harry Potter or Twilight knockoffs that are getting movie deals.

Meetu knows Tammy and Bruce a little from Facebook - they were the ones who started our All-American Bollywood Movie Night group, which is what brought me here! :)

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