Harry Potter was an unprecedented success in Hollywood. Sure, there have many book-to-movie adaptions before but this was the first one to do it for an entire franchise with each movie breaking box office records. It spawned seemingly millions of knockoff books that in turn all spawned seemingly millions of knock off movies, but none of them could get past the first film. This all changed with Twilight, which definitely replaced Harry Potter as the Next Big Thing.
Whereas Harry Potter was (originally) for children, Twilight was for the highly coveted Young Adult audience and their mountains of disposable income. Top that off with their nonstop passion to be on top of what's cool, and there suddenly existed an extremely fertile breeding ground for imitators that could be successful.
Not to say that a lot of the books that followed were written as Twilight knockoffs, but there is no way these books would have gotten picked up to be published unless companies sensed they could market them as a franchise like Twilight had become. Before it took years for a book series to become huge, now all they have to do is slap a “the next Twilight!” sticker on it and BAM! Instant millions of sales. They have it down to a science now.
Step One. Start off with a completely bland boring uninteresting dark haired young woman who starts off as nothing special. She has to be a loner who only has one interest/hobby in her life.
Step Two. She will have a single male best friend that she only thinks of “as a friend or like a brother”. He, of course, pines for her daily to love him like he secretly loves her.
Step Three. Have her suddenly become the most important person in the world through a combination of the supernatural, a hidden talent she didn't know she had, or an indomitable will.
Step Four. Make sure she only has one parent, usually a mother but that's flexible. The other parent is gone either through divorce, death, or mysteriously vanishing when she was young.
Step Five. Throw her into a Love Triangle with two men, one of whom is the aforementioned best friend she's known her entire life and the other an enigmatic stranger she instantly prefers. Bonus if the stranger is introduced saving her life.
Step Six. Add a villain. The villain isn't important at all so we don't need any kind of development for him. In fact, the more faceless and generic he is the better because that's just taking time away from the Love Triangle.
Step Seven. Make sure whatever world changing events going on in the story are minimized so they can take a backseat to the Love Triangle.
There you have it. Millions of book sales and a movie franchise that'll turn a profit because all you have to do is hire a bunch of cheap unknown actors though you will have to shell out for one older, established star who will be the villain. I have no idea what the Mortal Instruments series is about, having never read it. The only thing I know about it are the covers I saw at Borders Bookstore back in the day with the dreaded “Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture” text gracing them.
Is this going to be the next Twilight? Let's see with A Ghoul Versus The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.
Our film opens with lots of establishing shots of New York City. We join our heroine Clary as she talks to her best friend Simon on the phone about nothing. We see her mother is Cersei Lannister, which I really hope hasn't inspired some horrifying Mortal Instruments/Game of Thrones slash fiction. Mother and daughter are both artists, Cersei making her living by selling paintings. We see Clary has been doodling a rune looking symbol onto a notepad absent-mindedly.
Cersei notices the drawing and crumples it up, very upset. Her husband? Boyfriend? Luke tells her she needs to talk to Clary about it, but Cersei thinks it isn't time. Clary and Simon attend an awful poetry reading at a coffee shop although saying a poetry reading's awful is rather redundant isn't it? It's made very obvious here Simon in deeply in love with Clary but of course she's TOTALLY oblivious to it. There's even a part where a cute blonde woman flirts with Simon and he blows her off because he only has eyes for Clary. This is totally unbelievable by the way, because Simon is COMPLETE dork. Didn't the movie makers get the memo all the guys in these movies are supposed to double as American Eagle models?
Clary asks why he didn't ask the woman out, Simon answering because he's saving himself for someone else. Clary innocently asks who, and he quickly changes the subject. I'm going to hate this movie a lot, aren't I? After the reading, they are walking by a nightclub when Clary notices the symbol she's been drawing on the sign. She wants to go in, but Simon says there's no way the bouncer will let them in. As Clary goes to ask the bouncer what the symbol means, a freaky looking leather clad guy is walking by. Her question makes him stop, and he tells the bouncer to let then in. No one else can see the symbol on the sign apparently.
Inside the club, Clary watches as the freaky guy goes to talk to a girl who is dressed very oddly. When he notices the tattoos on her chest, he goes to leave. The girl has a serpent bracelet that starts moving, turning into a whip that she uses to corral him around the neck. Another weird guy wearing a hood takes out a blade and slashes up the freaky guy.
Clary screams, the whole club stopping to look at her as she's the only one that saw any of this. We get a brief shot of the freaky guy writing on the ground with tentacles coming out of all his wounds. Clary and Simon quickly leave. The next day Clary wakes up and her bedroom is now COVERED with the symbol to give her a nice Room Full of Crazy. Clary goes to leave but Cersei wants her to stay, saying she wants to go celebrate because she sold another painting. Clary, in a bad mood, replies “To what? Your one buyer?”, insinuating he only buys her stuff because he's into Cersei and that she's just stringing him along like she does Luke. I guess Luke isn't her boyfriend then, probably would have been nice to establish this stuff a tad better (as opposed to not at all) to us non-fans.
Cersei is all “Uh uh, don't go there girlfriend!” and fires back that Clary is doing the exact same thing to Simon. Clary totally ignores this because she's not very smart. “He's like my brother!” That's a rather cliché thing to say, but I'm sure it won't happen again. Clary and Simon go to the coffee shop where she sees the Hooded Murderer from the club outside, going to talk to him. Alone. With no weapons. But he's cute, so that's okay.
Back at the apartment, two men in black smash their way in and demand Cersei tell them where “the Cup” is. Cersei asks how they found her, one replying because of her daughter. Yeah, that's not really a good enough answer. Clary asks Hoodie questions about why only she can see him and the murder at the club, but he just answers in circles. She notices he has the now famous symbol tattooed on his arm and shows him some of her drawings, asking why she's been sketching them. Looking at the pictures, he muses to himself that he was right and she's not a Muggle. She asks what a Muggle is, learning it's someone from the human world.
Clary gets a call from her mom, who has managed to fight off the Men in Black and hide in the bathroom. Hoodie says Clary should answer her phone, it could be her boyfriend. Clary annoyingly bleats that Simon isn't her boyfriend, to which Hoodie replies “Does he know that?” Hoodie has seen Clary for less than a few minutes and has already picked up that Simon has feelings for her!
When she does answer the phone, her mother tells her to find Luke and tell him Valentine has found her. However when she hears a crash in the background, Clary goes racing home. Does 911 not exist in ANY of these movies? We see the crash was one of the Men in Black breaking down the door and trying to grab Cersei but she foils him by taking out a vial out from under the sink and drinking it. She either dies or passes out, we're not told for a very long time.
Clary arrives home to find the place completely trashed, along with a massive dog left behind by one of the Men in Black. The dog's head begins to split open as it attacks her, transforming into a full blown demon but luckily Hoodie arrives just in time to kill it. He finally gives Clary some answers, explaining it was possessed by a demon like the freak at the club was. Clary goes to see her downstairs neighbour, played by the always awesome CCH Pounder. Clary realizes she can see Hoodie, to which he replies “of course she can, she's a witch”. How did he know that?
Pounder doesn't know what happened to her mom, instead doing a tarot reading of Clary for some reason. Clary points out the cards were painted by her mother, running her hands over them and drawing the Ace of Cups. Hoodie says that's a Mortal Instrument, one of the three holy objects of his people. Pounder reveals Cersei was a Shadowhunter, just like Clary. She decides to do a direct reading of Clary but can't because there is something blocking her mind, concluding Cersei must have hired someone to make her forget her memories. I'm thinking the trolls from Frozen must have gotten gypped on their royalties and had to make money however they can.
Clary hears someone in the apartment upstairs, finding Simon. He can now see Hoodie, who introduces himself as Jace Weyland, Demon Hunter MD. He and Simon immediately get our Love Triangle going because (say it with me) they don't like each other! Jace finds the vial, saying it's nothing good but doesn't tell us what that means. Clary decides they need to go find Luke.
At Luke's place, they hear the Men in Black interrogating him for the Cup's whereabouts. Jace pulls out a Sonic Screwdriver to see through the wall as it's HIGHLY likely this story started off as Doctor Who fanfiction. One of the Men taunts Luke, saying he wants to see him change. We see Luke's arms grow very hairy as he's obviously a werewolf, but he doesn't transform to take these guys out for some reason. Jace attacks the Men but this goes nowhere so they just leave without rescuing Luke. What heroes!
Outside a cop car has pulled up, but the cops are possessed by demons. Jace takes them out and the three escape. Jace takes them to the Institute, a/k/a Shadowhunter HQ, a huge lavish castle that looks like an abandoned building to Muggles. As they enter, Clary collapses. Jace finds she has a demon bite on her arm, which I guess she got from the dog earlier? It's really unclear. Clary figures this is the best time to start awkwardly flirting with Jace now as I check how long this has been going. Only half an hour, JOY.
She wakes up later with a symbol on her arm where the bite was. She cracks a bad joke about it because now that she's the Chosen One in a supernatural story, she might as well go all out. Simon explains its a rune, having gotten a quick lesson on them while she was unconscious. They have all kinds of runes that can perform numerous tasks as the plot demands them. Convenient!
There's only four Shadowhunters (including Jace) in the entire castle because their kind are a dying breed, as you can only become one by being born from one or drinking from the Mortal Cup. The other Shadowhunters are Hodge (their leader), Angry Alec (The Angry Guy), and Poor Man's Scarlett Johansson (the weird girl in the club). As Clary goes to meet with Hodge, Angry Alec warns her to stay away from Jace. Uh okay? Hodge is played by the guy who played David Robert Jones on Fringe, so we know he'll turn out to be a bad guy later on.
Hodge prattles on about a bunch of nonsense with can be summed up to say “all myths are true”. Elsewhere, Poor Man's Scarlett Johansson gives Simon a tour of the place. He's asking about various creatures and when zombies comes up is told they don't exist. I start hitting my head against the wall because we were just told ALL myths are true like a minute ago. This level of consistency really summarizes this movie as a whole. Also, we're expected to believe these two are attracted to each other based off... Hmm. Simon's not at all forced pop culture references? His not at all adorable dorkiness?
Hodge gives us the history of the Cup, that an angel poured his blood into it and whoever drank from it became a Shadowhunter to fight the never ending war against evil. Demons have the advantage because they're hard to kill whereas Shadowhunters are mortal. Clary asks why not use the Cup to create more Shadowhunters, which Hodge informs her is what Valentine thought as well. The Cup was protected by a group called the Clave who didn't want to use it because most who drank from it died. We get a flashback montage of Valentine forming a group (Cersei among them) to steal the Cup, but instead of wanting to protect humanity his goal was to “evolve the Shadowhunters”. He did experiments with the Cup, learning how to summon and control demons.
We're only told he wanted to “rule”, but honestly all of these seem like good things to me. Wouldn't a Shadowhunter who can control demons be a great idea? We never see that he uses these demons to kill innocent people, it seems more like he wants to be in charge of the Shadowhunters and demons. I'm hoping this is explained better in the book, because here I'm really on Team Valentine.
The montage ends as we see a pregnant Cersei steal the Cup from him and vanish, Hodge positive Clary's blocked memories will reveal where it's hidden. Jace arrives and says the “Silent Brothers” are ready for her. As Clary and Jace walk through a graveyard, she asks why Hodge didnn't come with. Jace tells her Hodge hasn't left the Institute in years, rumours abound a spell is keeping him there. The Silent Brothers are tall men with no eyes and their mouths sewn shut that will help Clary remember everything. They take her into a gigantic underground mausoleum, which is our title namer the City of Bones.
The ritual to make her remember is a dud, as the block can only be removed by the person who placed it. While under effects from the memory restoration spell, she wrote the name “Bane” on the ground and suddenly this movie is awesome! Wait, Bane?! I can't wait to see him crush Simon's head! Jace informs us it must be Magnus Bane, and my happiness dies a violent death. Clary's all “Let's go see him! We have to hurry!” but Jace responds they'll need Isabelle's help first. Isabelle? Oh, Poor Man's Scarlett Johansson! Nice of them to finally give her a name. So I assume Isabelle has some kind of special spell that'll let them contact Bane?
No, she just needs to give Clary a SUPER short dress. This movie isn't trying very hard, is it? Sure, every second that goes by means Cersei could be lost forever, but TEH SEXINESS is much more important! Isabelle explains Clary can't get within a hundred feet of Bane unless she looks super sexy or something. But if he already knew Clary wouldn't that be good enough? I'm pretty sure he'd remember altering someone's memories, so this whole dress thing just seems... incredibly stupid. As she gets glammed up, Clary talks about how Alec doesn't like her and learns he's Isabelle's brother. This is played like Clary just stuck her foot in her mouth by saying something bad about Alec, but all she said was a simple fact.
Clary follows this up by asking if Jace knows how Alec feels about him. Wait, are they inferring-? Isabelle asks “Is it THAT obvious?” They are, wow. Alec is in love with Jace. I have no problems with Alec being gay, my problem is NO it wasn't THAT obvious! The ONLY indication we got whatsoever was when Alec told Clary to stay away from Jace, and I'm sorry if I'm being thick here, but I didn't interpret that as him being gay at all. At the time Alec was pissed Jace was endangering the other Shadowhunters by getting involved in this Cup nonsense. I'm guessing this was fleshed out MUCH better in the book, probably in loving fanfictionesque detail.
Clary says it isn't a big deal, but Isabelle says it is to the Clave and they make the rules. What rules? Is the Clave homophobic or does that just mean Shadowhunters can't date each other? Movie, not everyone watching this read the damn book! Isabelle declares Clary is now pretty and shows her off to everyone else, even though I thought Clary already looked fine beforehand. It's not like she had glasses, a pony tail, and paint stained overalls or anything. Alec says she looks like a hooker in a bit of a catty tone. See, if we'd have had more of that early his reveal wouldn't be so out left field!
They arrive at Bane's, which is a huge mansion where he's throwing a party. Jace uses a rune to hypnotize the doorman into letting him in, SO WHAT WAS THE WHOLE POINT OF DRESSING UP CLARY?! Clary could have worn a potato sack and they'd be in the door all the same. Ugh, this freaking movie. We meet Magnus Bane, who doesn't insist on snobbishly wearing pants like most of the stuck up people in New York.
He says he'll let them stay because of the “hot one”. Jace and Isabelle both say thank you at the same time (which is the only part of this entire film an intentional joke made me laugh), but Bane says he was referring to Alec... and with that, 9 billion terabytes of horrid slash fiction were launched.
Oh, and he'll let them stay because of Clary too. Because, you know, he remembers her. What are the odds of that? He tells Clary her mother brought her to him every year to have her memory wiped whenever she'd start drawing the angelic rune. Which reminds me, what exactly does that rune do? We're never told. This really makes me wonder about the night club scene earlier, why would they have the rune painted on the sign? Was this to signify it was a Shadowhunter hangout? If that's the case, why would a demon go there?
As I contemplate how bad this story is, vampires abduct Simon right in front of Isabelle. She doesn't even try to stop them, and she's instantly my favourite character in this movie. Bane and Clary continue to talk in a scene that has some EXTRAORDINARILY bad acting. We're talking Tommy Wiseau quality here. Bane can't remove the block for some reason, it just has to naturally wear off on its own. Clary realizes Bane is the one who's been buying all of Cersei's paintings, and through this learns the man she thought was her father wasn't. Hmm, you know Cersei was shown sleeping in Valentine's bed and was pregnant, I wonder if... nah.
The Shadowhunters track the vampires to an old hotel they live in. They find Simon, who yells out this whole thing was a trap. The vampires are using him as bait to lure Clary so they can get the Cup. Oh movie, why are you a thing? Why are the vampires after the Cup? Do they want to become Shadowhunters to kill themselves? How do they even know who Clary is? Did whatever she did to alert the Men in Black to her presence send our a bulletin over the Demon RSS Feeds? This is probably- eh. Let's just move on.
It's fight time as our heroes (and simon) square off against probably a hundred vampires in what ends up looking more like a dance video than a fight. You've seen this so many times I don't even need to describe it: extreme shaky cam so we can't see what's going on and the vampires take turns fighting instead of just Zerg rushing everyone and easily killing them.
However, the vampires keep coming so WEREWOLVES burst into the room to take them out. No, that's not a joke. That- that really happens. I mean, yeah vampires and werewolves are the forerunners of fantasy but that doesn't mean you have to use them in every. Single. Story. What about mummies? Or sea monsters? I haven't seen sea monsters in a movie in years. Back at the Institute, Alec wants Clary to leave. She says this is all about him being in love with Jace, so he violently slams her up against the wall and threatens to kill her if she ever says that again. Heroism at it's finest, right here.
Actually I'm pretty sure this scene was written so the slash fanbase can hate Clary even more and ignore her further in their stories about Alec and Jace. Simon wakes up in the Institute's hospital wing where Clary is sitting by his bed drawing a picture of Jace as an angel. I really think CF + JW with little hearts would have been more appropriate, but whatever. Clary gives Simon his glasses, but he realizes he no longer needs them to see. She also notices a vampire bite mark on his shoulder, but doesn't say anything and guess what? This is NEVER brought up again.
If I stopped to detail how mind bogglingly stupid this scene is, it would be longer than this entire review. Also it's Simon, so I don't care at all. Jace secretly watches the two with jealousy on his face because we've had enough action so back to the Love Triangle! Edward, feeling totes emo, goes to play the piano to ease his pain of not losing the girl he's known for a few hours to a guy that she only thinks of as a friend.
Hold on, I'm getting confused here. JACE, feeling totes emo, goes to play piano to ease his pain of not losing the girl he's known for a few hours to a guy that she only thinks of as a friend. Clary suddenly appears to join him and gets a history lesson that Johann Sebastian Bach was a Shadowhunter and his expose hurts demons. Don't you love when a throwaway line in a movie would have made SUCH a better movie?
Click here for Part 2!
Click here for Part 2!