Clary Fray's (Lily Collins, "Mirror, Mirror") just a normal teenager out with her best friend Simon (Robert Sheehan, "The Red Riding Trilogy") when she sees a symbol that's been haunting her outside a Goth/punk club. Despite their inappropriate clothing, a bouncer takes one look and waves her right in, but from the dance floor, she sees something Simon doesn't - a murder. The next day her mother Jocelyn (Lena Headey, "300," "The Purge") is kidnapped, their apartment destroyed and a Rottweiler turns inside out into hideous beast, but Clary's saved by the very guy she saw killing someone the night before in "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones."
Take the central love triangle from "Twilight," the quest of "Harry Potter" by way of the Holy Grail then add a dash of "Sleeping Beauty" and some familial mythology from "Star Wars" and you've got "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones." First time screenwriter Jessica Postigo has crammed a huge cast of characters and tons of mythology into her adaptation of Cassandra Clare's series starter (the second is already in production), and director Harald Zwart's (2010's "The Karate Kid") thrown it all on screen with some impressive visual effects and teen swoony romance, but at 130 minutes running time, the film felt like it would never end.
Clary learns that Jace Wayland (Jamie Campbell Bower, "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn") isn't a murderer but a Shadowhunter and the person she saw him kill was really a demon (we're warned several times that demons can take any shape, so no one can be trusted - how convenient). Clary's mother has been protecting her from her own heritage, as Valentine Morgenstern (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, "Match Point," Showtime's 'The Tudors'), her father, perverted the use of a sacred Cup in dark experiments involving demon blood. Jocelyn had hidden this Mortal Cup and her future is tied to it, so Clary, a half human half angel Shadowhunter by blood, must find it.
Jace, the Edward Cullen character to 'mundane' (aka Muggle) Simon's Jacob Black, introduces Clary to the Insitute, a glorious Manhattan cathedral seen by mundanes as a blackened ruin. There she and Simon meet Shadowhunters Alec (Kevin Zegers, TV's 'Gossip Girl,' "Frozen") and Isabelle Lightwood (Jemima West, Showtime's 'The Borgias'), the other Shadowhunters she saw that night, and their mentor Hodge (Jared Harris, 'Mad Men's' Lane Pryce). Sparks begin to fly between Clary and Jace, which forces Simon to show his hand - Clary's the only one who didn't know he was in love with her. But there are still demons afoot and we also meet the Downworlders, the vampires, werewolves, witches and warlocks who have an uneasy 'accord' with the angelic warriors. These include werewolf pack leader Luke (Aidan Turner, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"), who Clary knew as her mother's boyfriend; downstairs neighbor Dorothea (CCH Pounder, TV's 'The Shield,' "Orphan"), a witch; and New York City's reigning warlock Magnus Bane (Godfrey Gao), who helped Jocelyn keep her daughter safe by blocking her memory.
If all this sounds a bit exhausting, it is. Like HBO's 'True Blood,' there's too much supernatural going on here (and we haven't even gotten to the portal yet, which allows Shadowhunters to jump in space within a dimension). It helps that the central love triangle players are all appealing in their roles, especially Campbell Bower, who conveys just the right balance between cockiness and sensitivity and looks great with his tattooed runes and carefully mussed blond locks. The visual effects also help keep things interesting with truly spectacular looking demons (including one very creepy looking little girl) and a creative demonstration of the Institute's portal. Valentine's thugs, Blackwell (Robert Maillet, "300," "Pacific Rim") and Pangborn (Kevin Durand, "Cosmopolis," "Fruitvale Station") also evoke genuine menace (and some much needed humor).
But in addition to its overstuffed mythology, the movie's climax is never ending, and so many plot strands are left open for the sequels it cannot stand as a singular cinematic experience in and of itself. "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones" may ease into more streamlined story telling in future editions now that its world has been established and should please fans of the books, but there are just too many imitators out there, this being one of them, for it to distinguish itself.
Robin did not see this film.
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