Movie Review: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones Kicks Twilight’s Butt

If you’ve been getting your teen fantasy fix from Twilight, prepare to be amazed.

 2013 | 2 hrs 10 minutes | Dir. Harald Zwart | Sony 


City of Bones has too many characters, not enough making out, a jagged plotline and heroically unambitious costumes and makeup.  But for your standard teen fantasy book- turned- movie (it’s adapted from the first novel in Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series), it impresses.  The stars are good- looking, the story’s engaging, and the one makeout scene is pretty excellent.

After attending a bad poetry reading, Clary (Lily Collins) witnesses three mysterious strangers murder someone at a mysterious neo- goth nightclub.  Horrified, she flees the scene.  The next day, Clary discovers she can see things others can’t.  While Clary tries to find answers, tattooed thugs ambush her mother and ransack her house.  Clary and her best friend Simon (Robert Sheehan) find themselves guided by one of the previous night’s murderers, Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), who leads Clary and Simon to a place called the Institute- and answers.


Clary learns that she belongs to a race of protectors called Shadowhunters.  The Shadowhunters hunt demons and expel them from the Earth.  But Shadowhunters are dying out.  Their method of procreation, a glass and gold chalice, has been lost.  A long time ago, a Shadowhunter called Valentine (played by a fantastically venomous Jonathan Rhys Meyers- we haven’t seen enough of him lately), went rogue and tried to use the chalice for evil.  Clary’s mother hid the chalice to protect it from further corruption, but now the fate of the Shadowhunters hinges on finding the mortal instrument.  Jace and his attractive companions Isabel and Alec recruit Clary to recover the cup.

The MOrtal Instrument City of Bones Jonathan Rhys- Meyers

Since nothing’s original these days, I’m going to go ahead and compare City of Bones to a bunch of things that already exist.  It’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Harry Potter meets Twilight with a dash of Star Wars thrown in.  The film suffers from weak character development and a plotline that suffers from a bad adaptation.  The rune tattoos that Shadowhunters wear look like they got painted on the actors’ skins with watercolors.   But compared to Stephanie Meyer’s vampire- meets- mortal ache fest, this movie is the Lord of the Rings.

City of Bones Finale Scene Magic Powers

City of Bones has flaws, but its virtues outweigh them. The story itself has some definite intrigue.  The story  subtly applies a God versus the devil dynamic, with werewolves, vampires and warlocks thrown in for extra fun.  The movie’s climax takes us back to the exciting and terrifying days of Harry versus Voldemort or Darth Vader versus Luke.  There’s even a totally groan- worthy twist involving Jace and Clary.

City of Bones  Jace Clary

Lily Collins looks so gosh darn beautiful we can’t even tell she’s not the best actor.  Jamie Campbell Bower (Jace) has perfectly tousled white hair, a British accent, chiseled bone structure, and that slightly emaciated look, making him an instant heartthrob.  Clary and Jace make Edward and Bella look like a couple of geeks necking under the bleachers.


The special effects top Twilight’s as well.  City of Bones clearly didn’t suffer from the world’s biggest budget, but they fill in the gaps with decent filmmaking.   Instead of slopping together shoddy looking CGI werewolves, City of Bones uses clever camera angles, sound effects, and a less- is- more approach to let the audience know when rugged mechanics morph into viscous beasts.

City of Bones Vampires

Buffy creator Joss Wheadon said in Enterntainment Weekly, “A lot of things aimed at the younger kids is just Choosing Boyfriends: The Movie.”  City of Bones certainly falls into that category, but this time, the story has a lot more meat.


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