Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Cinema File #243: "The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones" Review

Ever since the fifth and thankfully last installment in the epic Twilight Saga graced our theater screens, Hollywood has been in a desperate search to find that next big terrible franchise inspired by some high concept young adult literary series. So far, the results have been a bit mixed, though with the exception of The Hunger Games, still generally disappointing. The Host presented us with an interesting setting and a potentially complex villain in its benign invaders, but was too poorly executed to take advantage of them. On the other hand, Beautiful Creatures, for all its complete lack of subtlety, had a certain campy Southern-fried charm. This of course brings us to The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones, the first in what I read could be as many as six films not counting various spin-offs, that despite a few bright spots and some obvious style and potential, makes me dread the coming years should this new “saga” come to fruition.

The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones follows a young girl named...oh let's just say Bella, because who cares? She's lost and moody, struggling to articulate her oh so white and pretty specialness in a world just waiting to reveal the secret of why she's the chosen one, when sure enough she comes upon a secret society of monster killers called Shadowhunters that only she can see, who induct her into their world of intrigue and uninspired action set pieces. The movie actually begins with more than a little promise, with mysterious symbols, subconscious memories, invisible murderers, and an action sequence involving a tentacle limbed devil dog that's pretty well done. It is at this point that I began to notice the pedigree of the cast, starting with Game of Thrones' Lena Headey, LOST's Kevin Durand, and Warehouse 13's CCH Pounder, as well as the brilliant Robert Sheehan from Misfits. Since I know Jared Harris and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are also both due to show up in major roles at some point, I feel I should be forgiven for thinking this one might actually pan out into something.

The waste of so much talent is perhaps the greatest sin this movie commits, but its only the first of many. Up to this point, Twilight and its many clones, at least based on the film adaptations I've seen, have all settled on one basic concept, be it Vampires vs. Werewolves, alien invasion, ripping off Battle Royale, or witches. Go ahead and throw all of that and more into a blender and poor the unrecognizable and unappetizing mess onto a plate, and the resulting dish of gruel called The Mortal Instruments is somehow both bland and offensively distasteful. Its the kitchen sink of supernatural worlds by way of Buffy and The World Of Darkness with none of the wit or fun or either one, replaced with the tired emo love triangle bullshit that all these movies arbitrarily wedge into the plot to act as teenage girl wish fulfillment, with cookie cutter handsome bad boys vying for the affections of a girl so blank in personality that any girl in the audience can substitute themselves for her. It's to be expected, but that doesn't make it any less unbearable to sit through.

You know that thing movies do sometimes called basic foreshadowing? Really, you're aware of it? Well then congratulations, you aren't any of the people who made this movie. Everything that is important to the plot in The Mortal Instruments is only revealed as important seconds before it becomes important, with barely enough time for its many narrative cheats to even qualify as red herrings or macguffins. That a story ultimately revolving around the search for what might as well be the Holy Grail can be so otherwise pointlessly convoluted is the kind of shitty storytelling you actually have to try hard to do. Characters and character relationships are introduced or dramatically revealed suddenly without any concern for their relative impact on the story, and often forgotten about just as quickly, and if I could bring myself to care about any of it, any particular element I might have some attachment to is either ignored as soon as it comes up, or completely invalidated a few scenes later. You see this often in movies built on an escalating series of twists, but here I wouldn't even call them twists as much as a series of bad ideas that prove to be mutually exclusive and thus require you to forget about the previous bad idea.

There have been many attempts to create a world secretly filled with monsters and legendary creatures, some more successful than others. The idea of demons, vampires, werewolves, and so on all sharing the same space just under our noses, our lives constantly under supernatural threat and only protected by a small band of expert badasses is a cliche for a reason, and can still be done well if given a unique spin on the same old monsters. Unfortunately, The Mortal Instruments is an utter failure both as a horror fantasy and just as an attempt at entertainment in general. As is all too often the case, the need to add to the already glutted marketplace of overwrought teen romance bogs the story down so that anything it appears to have going for it is given short shrift in favor of doe-eyed soulful looks and passionate PG-13 porn for the Taylor Swift set, in between scenes with actors you know can and should be doing much better movies. Robert Sheehan left Misfits to pursue a film career, and this is the first thing I've seen him in since. I have to believe he's done better, because I don't want to think he ruined a perfectly good TV show just to make a movie as bad as this one. 

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