The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, based on the novel by Cassandra Clare, is an epic film.
Styled to within an inch of its life, its loaded to the brim with kickass leather-clad good guys, and assortment of demons, vampires and werewolves of varying allegiances – no zombies surprisingly because as one of the characters remarks rather matter-of-factly “they don’t exist” – and the usual post modern mix of history, conspiracy and the ever present battle between good and evil.
It also comes complete with an uninitiated hero of course, in this case one Clary Fray (Lily Collins) who is shocked to discover that she is a Shadowhunter (essentially a slayer of demons), as is her mother, both facts hidden from her in an effort to keep her safe, a deception that nearly costs the wide eyed ingénue her life.
Fortunately for the blissfully unaware teenager, a veteran Shadowhunter Jace Wayland (Jamie Campbell Bower) just happens to be dispatching a demon in the nightclub in which Clary is surreptitiously celebrating her birthday, and after an awkward introduction, later rescues her from an attack which sees her mother spirited away to satan knows where unconscious from a potion of her own imbibing.
This obviously unexpected chain of events, preceded by Clary drawing the same symbol, Rainman-style over and over again, launches Clary into a hidden world where everything consigned to the realm of myth and nightmare actually exists.
And it is a world she is both ill-prepared, thanks to her upbringing, and oddly well-equipped, thanks to her hidden but quickly triggered supernatural heritage, to handle.
Naturally of course as Clary (who is fortunately a quick learner), her best friend (and secret unrequited admirer) Simon (Robert Sheehan), who is a “mundane” or non-Shadowhunter, and Jace’s posse comprised of brother and sister demon slayers Alec (Kevin Zegers) and Isabelle (Jemima West) race from one hidden corner of New York City to the next, they encounter enemies aplenty, all of them after The Mortal Cup which holds the key to the successful continuance of the Shadowhunters as a race.
Prime among the enemies, and the one orchestrating the pulling of the evil puppet strings, is Valentine Morgenstern (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who camps it up like there’s no tomorrow, thundering and summoning in all his tightly-leather clad, rather-unhinged glory.
He is a classical baddy with a capital “B” who may or may not be related to Clary, a heroine who is in turn is lusted after by Simon and Jace, the latter of whom is liked by Alec who resents Clary who is also disliked by Isabelle who may have a thing for Simon.
PHEW! Are you keeping up?
As I said it is epic write large, and in its way, hugely entertaining, throwing around the now standard fantasy-worlds-hidden-right-under-our-mortal-noses tropes with gleeful alacrity.
But for all its highly enjoyable, destiny-revealing non stop action, during which it is almost impossible to become bored, think or notice plot holes or the stunning lack of exposition, it is a movie that is so painfully self-aware of its own epic nature that it ticks all the boxes without ever achieving the kind of epic-ness that movie franchises like The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars have in seemingly endless abundance.
You walk out knowing it is epic in scale but without feeling like it is, which may sound a strange thing to remark on, but what it essentially means is that The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones feels like a whole lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.
An enjoyable nothing, and a fine, adrenaline-fueled way to spend some time in the cinema, but nothing much beyond that.
Some fans, as stalwart admirers are wont to do, have complained that too much of the book’s detail was left out in its transition to the big screen and perhaps this accounts for the film’s towering but ultimately empty, presence.
Or perhaps the director Harald Zawart, who has largely lightweight fare like Agent Cody Banks (2003) and The Pink Panther 2 (2009) to his credit, simply isn’t well versed in bringing a deeply nuanced, highly detailed story to the screen.
Whatever the reason, the movie doesn’t rise above the sum of its enormously temporarily enjoyable parts – and those parts are considerable, throwing everything including J S Bach as a musically-inclined Shadowhunter into the fast-moving plot – failing in the process to become the sort of fantasy movie that stays with you long after you leave the theatre.
That future installments of the series will do as well at the box office as the books have done in the world of literature is beyond dispute but unless they are prepared to give the series as much narrative substance as it has spectacle, The Mortal Instruments franchise is destined to only be remembered as a good, and alas not great contribution to the burgeoning world of modern fantasy storytelling.