City of Bones Review

poster from the Sony Pictures film Mortal Instruments City of Bones

I read the original Mortal Instruments trilogy several years ago and really liked it. Reading it directly after Twilight gave me a special degree of appreciation for its heroine with a personality, complex world, villains who do things, and actual battles that actually happen. I remember thinking that it would make a good movie, and now the first one, City of Bones has arrived.

A teenage artist discovers she comes from a race of secret demon hunters after her mother is kidnapped.

I’ve heard from other people who’ve seen it that it deviates quite a lot from the plot in the book, but it’s been a few years since I read the book and I didn’t notice anything glaringly different except for a few minor things, which is to be expected when you’re cramming 485 pages of story into a 120 page movie script. And apart from a few minor glitches, I liked it.


Our heroine-with-a-personality is Clary Fray (Lily Collins) a teenage artist who lives with her single mom Jocelyn (Lena Headey) in a New York City apartment. She and her best friend Simon (Robert Sheehan) go out to celebrate her birthday at a nightclub, whereupon Clary sees a hot blonde leather-clad biker type that no one else can see murder some guy for no reason. Then she goes home and draws radishes all over the walls.

Jocelyn Fray from the Sony Pictures film Mortal Instruments City of Bones

Honey, I bought you a new coat. It’s white and the sleeves buckle charmingly in the back.

Then her mom gets kidnapped and a monster turns up in the apartment, whereupon Clary blows it up rather than waiting for someone to come and save her (points to Clary). However, instead of calling the police like the normal person she thinks she is, Clary turns to the hot biker, whose name is Jace Weyland (Jamie Campbell-Bower) for an explanation. Turns out that radish-drawing and seeing invisible friends are symptoms of being a Shadowhunter, which is a sort of demon killing half-angel who uses drawn symbols to gain superpowers.

Clary and Jace ride a motorcycle from the Sony Pictures film Mortal Instruments City of Bones

I guess they have an anti-head cracking rune, considering their aversion to helmets.

Clary and Simon are sucked into the secret Shadowhunter world, which is centered on a giant church no one can see called the Institute. There Jace lives with his friends Alec (Kevin Zegers) and Isabelle (Jemima West) Lightwood, and no parental or supervisory influence at all except for a librarian type called Hodge (Jared Harris) who is almost never around and can’t leave the building.

Clary and Hodge from the Sony Pictures film Mortal Instruments City of Bones

Yes, feel free to run wild like the other children. I’m not here for you anyway.

The no-parents thing is one of the big departures from the book that I noticed, and the other is Jace himself. I pictured him as more of a buff Alex Pettyfer type of kid, and it was rather jarring trying to reconcile that with the scrawny, odd-looking boy they cast. Movie Jace did grow on me a bit. He had decent chemistry with Lily Collins, especially when he said funny things out of jealousy.

Clary and Jace kiss from the Sony Pictures film Mortal Instruments City of Bones

SIMON (In Clary’s room): You invited him to your BED?
JACE: I know, it’s ridiculous. We would never have all fit.

But I couldn’t quite shake the sense of discordance. I wondered why that was – I got behind Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher for crying out loud – then I realized the publishers had messed me up by putting Buffy McChest on the cover of the freaking book. It’s as good an argument as any for not putting actual people on book covers

cover from the book Mortal Instruments City of Bones

PUBLISHER: But will girls buy it if there are no men on it?

Setting aside the Jace issues, I would have liked more Alec, who is my favorite character despite being mostly relegated to the role of jealous best friend, and perhaps a less confused plot. I only saw it a day or so ago and already I’m blanking on the order of events and why they were even happening.

Clary, Simon, Jace, Alec, and Isabelle in the vampire hotel from the Sony Pictures film Mortal Instruments City of Bones

I think we were… about to… um… yeah, I dunno.

All I remember is that it’s something to do with the evil-but-presumed-dead Voldemort (sorry, Valentine) (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) wanting the mortal cup, an artifact which turns people into Shadowhunters and possibly does some other stuff too. And Clary’s mother is kidnapped… because she knows where it is or something, so Clary might too, which is why they need to take her to the City of Bones, home of the telepathic monks who do movie trailer voice-overs.

Jace and Clary visit the Silent Brothers from the Sony Pictures film Mortal Instruments City of Bones

IN A WORLD where drawing radishes is considered a superpower, TWO CHILDREN will examine the floor.

Anyway the confusedness is almost incidental because when I think of the movie I think of the epic demon battles they get into – a refreshing change from Twilight, which avoided actual conflict like the plague. Clary herself has powers that balance out her inexperience and they spend most of the movie stabbing things with faces made out of smoke and big fangy teeth.

shadowhunters fighting demons from the Sony Pictures film Mortal Instruments City of Bones

Good thing Clary has a magical pause button or we’d never be able to admire the CGI like this.

The final battle fills up almost a third of the movie, which is a bit long, but involves every single character ever introduced in the movie, so I suppose it can be forgiven. Even Clary’s mom’s friend Luke (Aidan Turner) rocks up in an old bus with some wolfed-out buddies to join in the party (and provide some red-shirt types who can be tragically eaten without screwing up the sequels).

Luke the werewolf rides a bus to the rescue from the Sony Pictures film Mortal Instruments City of Bones

So did I like City of Bones? Yes, mostly. Am I going to have a fit over the differences between the book and the movie? No, because I really don’t care that much. Will I see the sequels? Yes. Should you go and see this movie? Yes, because even if you’re not into that whole teen paranormal romance thing there are some badass fights and the mythology is pretty cool.

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