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Review: ‘The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones’ starring Lily Collins and Jamie Campbell Bower (2.4/5)

SPOILER WARNING: I tried to be semi-aware of spoilers but after finishing this review, it may be best to avoid reading it before seeing the movie if you want to go into the film with a fresh outlook. I get pretty detailed about scenes, including the ending, without entirely revealing everything of course! I don’t say how they dealt with the twist, I just explain why you should keep an open mind about changes.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, based on the first novel in the hugely popular series by Cassandra Clare, is an action packed teen flick with real actors that deliver great performances. It is entertaining, has fantastic cinematography and set design, delivers some hard-hitting action sequences. All the CGI was awesome – I loved how they made the demons look!

However, this film also has a few issues that cause me to wonder how fans and general audiences will react to it. It’s not perfect, of course. This is definitely a teen movie. That’s the main issue I have with it. Having it be a “teen movie” so obviously in it’s tone, and cliches, was a choice that I don’t think was necessary. It was beautifully shot and was very dark, maybe even darker than the novel since the characters were aged up. Before I saw it I had been hoping this would be the first YA novel adaptation that could escape that irritating tone that makes it seem less smart, real, and grounded in reality. Unfortunately, it sticks with the tone set by many other YA book to film adaptations we’ve seen recently, to a certain extent. I feel like it could have easily been made more mature, and would have appealed to a wider audience. I expect that this film, despite the work against it, will be labeled as a “chick flick.” I know it is a teen novel, but it’s still sad to me since I thought it could have avoided that mold. Boyfriends will still have to be dragged to this movie, regardless of the action.

The strongest part of the movie was the beginning, before Clary really delves into the Shadowhunter world. The film does an expert job at introducing our characters! We are quickly introduced to Clary Fray (Lily Collins), Simon Lewis (Robbie Sheehan), Luke (Aiden Turner), and Clary’s mother, Jocelyn (Lena Headey). I enjoyed the banter between Clary and Simon, Lily and Robbie definitely clicked well together. The scene during the poetry reading where the characters look bored out of their minds, a girl flirts with Simon, and our duo discusses Jocelyn’s behavior – it’s all so, incredibly loyal to the book. As I was watching this part of the film I honestly felt like the book was coming to life, on screen. Lily Collins really surprised me, and I loved her in the role of Clary. She is in almost every scene, which is a big job, but she delivers.

Robert Sheehan is hilarious as Simon Lewis in the movie and provides some fantastic comic relief. Fans will love hearing many of the lines from the book, adapted into the screenplay. He was a bit more subdued in his sense of humor, not quite as over-the-top, but nothing too drastic. If anything I wanted more of him, since he sort of stood around not saying anything during many of the scenes he was a part of. If you’re only wanting more dialogue from a character, that means the actor did a good job, right? Robbie was fantastic! After the poetry scene, of course, they head to go out on the town to the Pandemonium Club.

The club scene was brilliantly shot, and I loved how out-of-place Clary and Simon looked. As you see the demon boy enter the club, then see Isabelle with her striking white dress and ruby necklace…it’s sure to make fans extremely happy. Some changes were necessary, like having the Shadowhunters take down the demon in the middle of the club right in front of Simon and Clary and all the guests of the club instead of in a back room – I thought it all worked very well, and it was a good change. Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) is briefly introduced in this scene, but like in the book, we don’t get to know him quite yet. At this point in the movie I was very happy with how it was going and was looking forward to how it would continue.

The scene in the coffee shop where Clary sees Jace, with Simon looking on in bewilderment, was also very well done and very accurate to how the book went. In this scene we get to actually meet Jace, and I think that Jamie Campbell Bower was perfectly cast in this role. The part requires that aura that Jamie naturally possesses, that snarky “British charm,” you could say! He has excellent comedic timing, and the delivery of his lines just scream Jace – perfect. I think fans, and general audiences, will love him.

As Clary runs off to save her mother, we get another very strong scene. Seeing Lena Heady as Jocelyn showing off her true Shadowhunter colors was absolutely badass, and the action as Clary fights off the Ravener demon was heart-pounding. A change that was made here, that I don’t think was a bad decision, is to have Jace come and kill the demon. This provides some necessary character development between the two of them, and fans will be happy to see our two leads embrace after such a scary ordeal. Jamie’s delivery of the line, “Well, I did just save your life,” was just too perfect. I also absolutely loved the scene between Jace, Simon, and Clary in the house, after Clary thwacks Simon over the back thinking he’s a demon. It was just so cool to see Jace, Clary, and Simon interacting on screen – and they were so their characters! This is exactly what fans want to see, and the contrast between Jace’s aloof snarkiness and Simon’s lovable silly nature. Also, I want to give a shoutout to Blackborn and Pangborn, Valentine’s minions. Kevin Durand was absolutely fabulous in his role as Pangborn and really stood out!

When we head into the institute, it is pretty magical. I absolutely love how the score compliments the film, it was very well done. As we arrive, we meet the characters of Alec (Kevin Zegers) and Isabelle (Jemima West) who everyone is very excited to see in action. After seeing the promotions through the mall tours and press interviews, fans will be surprised to find out that Isabelle actually has a much bigger role in the movie than Alec does. I would say Alec’s role is the part that seems to be diminished the most.

Fans haven’t seen much of Jemima West’s performance as Isabelle…and she knocks it out of the park. She is absolutely amazing in this part! It’s actually funny for me, since I met her on set and she was such a shy, adorable person. Give her a leather outfit, a whip, and she becomes an absolute badass. Fans of “Sizzy” will be happy to discover that the film has plenty of moments where Isabelle and Simon’s relationship develops. As Clary faints from her Ravener bite, she wakes up to discover that Simon has been well-versed in Shadowhunter-lore and runes, and that she has her own rune. Simon’s line will be sure to deliver a laugh!

Hodge (Jared Harris) is given the job of explaining the inner workings of the world of the Shadowhunters, to the audience, and Clary. He did a very good job with his part, and fans may actually find themselves feeling for Hodge more than they did while reading the novel!

The “City of Bones” scene involving the silent brothers was a bit awkward to me. Since, although they looked accurate to the book’s description, they just didn’t work on screen. I thought they looked a little silly, not chilling. Some things just don’t make the jump as smoothly, and this was one of those things. The deep and booming mind reading “voice” also just sounded a bit ridiculous and cheesy to me. However, the flashback sequence involving Jocelyn, and actors playing younger versions of Clary, was interesting and fun to watch.

Now, here’s where my big issues start. Like I said above, I really enjoyed the film up until Clary really delves into the world and changes into her Shadowhunter outfit. The scene between Clary and Isabelle as they change for Magnus’ party was well acted, but I wish Clary had outright asked – is Alec gay? – like in the book. The way it was done in the film worked, but it made me feel like Alec’s storyline was being diminished more and more every minute. Alec felt like he just came on every now and again to moan to Clary, and I don’t think that represents his character as well as it could have. I understand that some storylines and characters will be smaller than others since the movie can’t be 9 hours long, but losing a lot of Alec was disappointing. Kevin Zegers is a fantastic actor and I was looking for more. However, the confrontation scene between Clary and Alec was great and I think fans will love it. This is the one scene you really get to see Kevin Zegers shine as Alec in the movie.

They tried to deliver the relationship between Alec and Jace, but Parabatai are not explained. I feel like if it had been given a moment, the audience would understand their relationship better. It was sort of confusing, and I can imagine it will be even more confusing for the casual movie-goer who hasn’t read the book. The fact that Jace and Alec are so incredibly close does not come across in the movie. Alec just doesn’t…connect. This isn’t talking down on Kevin’s performance – he isn’t given enough screen time. I wish that since he is knocked out near the end, he could have had some of Isabelle’s screen time near the beginning since she gets so much during the finale.

More issues began to arise when we visit Magnus Bane. Magnus is a huge fan favorite so my expectations were high! I’ve spoken to Godfrey Gao and believe that he’s a great actor, adorable person, and had the potential to pull off the part. It’s his first English role, so I know it must have been a big challenge for him. I actually know absolutely nothing for certain (I want to make that clear) about how they shot his part, this is just my observation of what it seemed like to me. There was something incredibly stilted about how Magnus came across on screen. To me, his voice sounded like it had been re-dubbed after filming by either Godfrey or someone else, through ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement). Not performed on set. Magnus is so confident and in the book just seems to behave so naturally. This performance wasn’t flowing and naturally evoking that charisma, so it took me out of the film. As I was watching I found myself wondering if it was Godfrey’s voice at all – I’ve been told that it was, and he used a dialect coach. I don’t believe that dialogue performed in a studio can ever even come close to the natural, real nature of how it is when it is performed on-set. Godfrey does have the Magnus charm, and fits his description perfectly. I wouldn’t have been sad if they had changed his character to be more soft-spoken or given him Godfrey’s accent – the character is an ancient high warlock who has been everywhere, after all. Anything to make Magnus seem more real.

However, I still don’t know if this will be apparent to the casual movie-goer, who hasn’t spoken to him in person and heard his soft-spoken voice, that has quite an accent. While I know that actors can change their voices for roles, this voice just sounded like an entirely different person and it really took me out of the film.

There’s some crazy action with vampires and werewolves, and everything goes mad after the party scene at Magnus Bane’s. Simon does not turn into a rat in this film, and I’m not very sad about the loss of this plot point because it could have appeared hokey on screen – it’s been done so many times before in other films. Seeing Simon actually in danger, in his actual body, was much more hard-hitting for the movie-goer than seeing the rat on screen. Using Simon as bait, the Shadowhunters are lured into the Hotel Dumort fight sequence, which is accented by ZEDD’s hard-hitting song from the soundtrack. The action sequence was fun, and entertaining – fans will be excited to see Izzy use her whip against some vampires!

Then, the character development between Jace and Clary really delves deeper. We see Simon and Clary sharing a moment on his hospital bed, and we are teased about his upcoming plot point – vampire! You see how easily the two talk, and their friendship is very adorable. However, then we see Jace watching from afar…in a tense romantic fashion. The scene following is sure to be a fan favorite, where Clary watches Jace play piano. Some of the dialogue felt a little stilted in this scene, but only some of it. I thought Jamie Campbell Bower really shone as Jace here – he really hit the character’s personality on the head. The added bit of information about Bach (the classical musician) being a Shadowhunter felt a bit forced and while I understand that it was added for effect later in the film…I wouldn’t have minded it being omitted. It just felt a bit silly.

On the greenhouse scene – which the actors have cited as their favorite over and over again – I don’t know how people will react. On one hand, I think fans will love it because it features awesome performances from Jamie and Lily. I loved the line from Jace about his falcon, and the sad story about it involving his father. It was incredibly well delivered. However, when the romance of the moment gets heated it delves into “teen movie” territory. I would have rather the kiss in the greenhouse was accented by score, instead of a song. Having Demi Lovato singing a very pop-song, even though it was written specifically for the scene, sort of took me out of the movie. I found myself asking, did they really have to land up being sprayed by the sprinklers? Teen movie cliches…some audiences may like them, it’s hard for me to tell.

Back to the positives, fans will be very happy with the scene where Simon professes his love to Clary. Robert Sheehan did an absolutely amazing job, you just felt so bad for the poor guy…and Lily Collins reacting to it, in just complete and utter shock. The whole scene just felt so real. I loved how Jace immediately shot his walls right back up, and totally cut off Clary. You can see that he is so protective of his feelings, and the moment in the greenhouse scene where he opens up and shows his true colors was a rare thing to behold. The Simon, Jace, and Clary explosion of ‘love triangle feelings’ – besides the fact that it is the feared overused love triangle – was very well done. Great performances from all involved and the characters really feel like they are coming to life.

We then meet Valentine later on, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Jared Harris (Hodge) is great in the scene where he is introduced, and Meyers brings a huge amount of intensity as Valentine. I felt like the amount of intensity Valentine had in the movie was good, in a way, but it also got to the point where it was almost comical. I mean, since Valentine is such a downright evil character with no redeeming qualities, he’s sort of hard to play. At times I just found the character sort of over-the-top, however, in true form to the book- entirely insane. So, it’s hard to really judge. You’ll have to tell me what you think.

In the climax, we get properly introduced to Aiden Turner as Luke, and I thought that he was adorable. He did a great job in his scenes, and delivered with the small amount of screen-time he was given. He just seemed so loving and his protectiveness over Clary really felt real. I can’t wait to see more of him in the future films. I loved that the werewolves were done differently than in other YA films, although I wish the teeth had looked more realistic.

Now, on the scene everyone is worried about – the scene involving a major twist from the book, with Clary, Jace, and Valentine. While some fans will be irritated with how it was done in the film, people need to realize that a book is a different medium. If someone reads the City of Bones novel and discovers how it ends, they are prompted to run out and get the next book. If it was done the same way in the film, it would cause general audiences to be extremely confused since they can’t go see the next movie right away. While fans will retort, “But movie audiences need to be shocked like in the book!” – it just doesn’t work that way. If it was done the same way as in the book, the movie could be widely frowned on by conservatives (silly, but true), and some audiences would leave going “Ew!” While many audiences wouldn’t care as much, like me, I’d just find it a very creative twist, others wouldn’t react the same way. Shadowhunters have to realize that the studio just can’t take a risk like keeping something that sensitive exactly true to the book, when it could hurt their image. Personally, I would have absolutely loved to hear the audience gasps if it was done the same way as in the novel. However, this is the most important thing – at the end of the movie, Clary and Jace believe the same new bit of information that they believe at the end of the novel. Isn’t that the most important thing?

All in all, I think the movie was generally faithful to the novel. Of course the characters couldn’t run around to as many locations as the book, some were condensed into one place, story-lines were cut down, but it was still an entertaining flick that does represent Cassandra Clare’s world pretty well. Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan, Lily Collins, and Jemima West all delivered fantastic performances. I was sad about the small role Kevin Zegers had in the film, and am hoping that he will be represented more in the coming sequels. I hope they decide to leave in Godfrey’s real on-set dialogue as Magnus Bane in City of Ashes, especially as his part becomes bigger. I think he has the potential to be a brilliant Magnus and is a really awesome guy, and talented actor.

The movie was entertaining, action packed, and I think some fans will absolutely adore it, and some fans will leave unsure. Due to my personal preference, I would have wished they had gone with a more mature tone and not had as many teen-movie cliches to avoid the chick flick box. However, I think we also had an embarrassment of riches in this film – fantastic performances, great cinematography, and a generally faithful script. You judge when you can see it in theaters and IMAX on August 21st!

Kimmy is a 21 year old nerdfighter who is the founder and editor-in-chief of Page to Premiere. When she's not writing about books and movies here or on her Hunger Games site called Mockingjay.net, she loves Tumblr-ing, eating sushi, drinking Thai iced tea, and being lazy with her cat Rue! She hopes to be a published author one day. You can follow her on Twitter at @kimmymary.

  • char99

    So she used her own characters which may have been based on characters from HP, and then published them in a book. Um, okay. I don’t get why everyone has a problem with this. It’s not plagarism.

    Authors are allowed to take inspiration and ideas.

    Do you know anything about the publishing world? How HARD it is to get a book published? There is NO WAY she would have been published if she had been plagiarising Harry Potter. No way.

    If we’re going to do the whole ‘read links’ thing, then read some of the comments here.


    It’s pretty obvious a lot of people disagree with you. Therefore, I don’t think you should accuse her of plagiarism because that’s pretty serious. You can’t state a fact without some actual proof.

  • char99

    ^^ This is what I’ve been thinking for a long time.

  • ahin

    I did enjoy the movie quite a lot and really agree with what you’ve said!

    Since I’ve seen it in German, I didn’t have to ask myself “Is Magnus dubbed or not??” so without that in mind, I was able to focus better on Godfrey’s acting, and I have to say it was great! I really loved his expressions and general presence, even tho movie!Magnus is not quite as “rainbow-colored” as in the books (but I think they still succeeded to capture most of his essence and I think making him as flamboyant as in the books would have easily seemed a bit over the top in the movie.) I still plan on watching it in English so, I’m curious to see how his voice will be :D

    Sometimes it just seems to me that people forget that while CoB did deliver quite a lot of cliches, it also broke some taboos by having a gay character in Alec and a bisexual one in Magnus; and obviously hitting on Alec. And I think that is really something new, especially in a “teen movie” aiming to become a big franchise. Also the taboo of incest, which I think they handled pretty neatly; audience knows it’s not true while the two of them are left in that belief. Just a thing I hoped would be more noticed.

  • http://lovethroughthedarkdays.tumblr.com/ Amelia B
  • h2onymph1

    Thank you for the review! I, too, loved the beginning parts much more than the end. In fact, while I like Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, I was pretty irritated with how Valentine was drawn in this movie. What’s with the rat-tail pony-tail? And the way Jocelyn and Valentine and Luke were drawn in flashbacks was just too hokey and comical. They almost appeared like “parents” playing dress-up bad asses and therefore not to be taken seriously at all. In other words, I saw their costumes more than the characters.

    While I understand the need to rewrite and move parts of the movie around, I was just so irritated about the end of the movie and the way Jace and Clary’s parentage was revealed. There was just so much obviousness in everything. Yes, I guess it is about how Valentine was drawn a bit too intensely, and therefore, very flat. Making Clary drink the mortal cup, and how tough he was on Jace. Even the flashback where Jace “remembered” Valentine looked so fake. I just did not enjoy the ending at all. I can’t even watch it.

    The other two points you made that I heartily agree with is how badly they messed up Magnus’ dub (or whatever they were doing there. WTH was that?) and the hokiness of the kiss in the greenhouse. I just couldn’t stop wincing during that scene, and I really wish that I could watch it because it’s an awesomely well-written in the books. I know that a movie can do it right — I don’t wince when I watch Twilight’s kisses, why do I have to wince when I see it here?

    But, there are many things I do like, and the actors that play Jace and Clary were excellent, and I’m very happy with it. Jace, in particular, was excellent and arrogant and sensitive and funny at the same time. Thanks for writing this. I’m glad to see all the detailed insights — as if I had someone watching on the couch right next to me and agreeing on all the awesome and yucky parts!

  • h2onymph1

    You know what I would add? While I loved how they dressed Magnus, the voice and acting that came out was just too…straight or something, not just in the sexual-orientation sense. In order to get the right balance of sexiness and power and flippancy to Magnus, the actor needs to play around with the character a bit more, be more flexible, in my opinion.