The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Directed By: Harald Zwart

Starring: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan, Kevin Zegers, Lena Headey, Kevin Durand, Aidan Turner, Jemima West, Godfrey Gao, CCH Pounder, Jared Harris, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers

Casting can make or break a movie.  That's never been more apparent than this weekend.  With the announcement that Ben Affleck will be donning the cape and mask of the Dark Knight in the Man of Steel sequel, there has been a swift and harsh backlash from fans around the globe.  Hell, there's even a petition to get rid of him with more than 7,000 signatures in less than a day.  All of a sudden, this casting decision has deflated the general enthusiasm behind this mega superhero crossover movie, and fans have good reason.  Casting matters.  On a smaller scale this weekend, we're seeing exactly what bad casting can do to a movie in the big screen adaptation of Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments.

For Clary Fray (Lily Collins), today is special.  It's her birthday.  To celebrate the special day, she goes with her friend Simon (Robert Sheehan) to a poetry reading and then goes to a nightclub later.  All the while, she's been obsessing over a strange symbol she's been seeing everywhere.  The symbol is the reason for which she chooses the nightclub at which she and Simon will party the night away.  It's also the reason for which she witnesses a murder in the club that night.  There's just one problem, nobody else in the crowded club saw this happen.  After bearing her soul to Simon, a frightened and unnerved Clary returns home later that night.  The next day, Clary's concerned mother Jocelyn (Lena Headey) is looking for some one-on-one time with her.  Clary ignores her and heads out to a cafe with Simon.  There, she unexpectedly meets Jace Wayland (Jamie Campbell Bower), the murderer at the club the night prior.  There's just one catch.  No one else can see him.  Terrified, she flees the cafe in an effort to get away from her secret menace. 

Meanwhile, her mother is facing two menaces of her own, some muscle sent by her former lover Valentine Morgenstern (Jonathan Rhys Meyers).  Jocelyn is not a mundane human; she's actually a half-angel, half-human shadow hunter.  Years ago, she stole a prized possession known as the Mortal Cup from Valentine and went into hiding with Clary.  Now, her secrets have caught up with her and her daughter.  Clary learns of her mother's past life during her encounter with Jace.  When her mother disappears, Jace, who also happens to be a shadow hunter who was actually slaying a demon at the club that night, becomes Clary's best chance of finding her mom if she is to delve into the hidden world of demons, vampires, and werewolves.  Jace starts by taking Clary and Simon to the Institute, a safe haven where he lives with other fellow shadow hunters.  He introduces her to his leader Hodge Starkweather (Jared Harris), and a dangerous adventure through New York City ensues from there.

Everything that's wrong with The Mortal Instruments can be traced back to poor casting decisions.  Director Harald Zwart has brought together an ensemble of inexperienced, underperforming young stars and B-list veteran actors.  Because of this, we're inundated with underwhelming lead performances devoid of any semblance of charm or emotional depth.  We're plagued with a stale love triangle in which the actors seem to be allergic to romance and passion.  We're punished with familiar faces mailing in their performances and collecting paychecks for said "work".  Ultimately, The Mortal Instruments is a cruel way to torture moviegoers as we wind down the summer season all thanks to poor casting.  To make matters worse, it's more than two hours.

To be fair, there are some other problems with the film that Harald Zwart gives us all on his own from the director's chair.  First, there's no style.  Zwart just runs through the story with no interpretation and no nuance.  With no emotional weight built around key plot developments, the film feels like a mediocre reenactment of the story with tangential, underdeveloped plot points.  Second, I know that we're in this world of demons, vampires, and werewolves and that Zwart should justifiably give us a darker world.  However, this doesn't mean that we have to be perpetually subjected to bleak cinematography.  A few bright, colorful camera shots here and there wouldn't hurt the movie. As it stands, The Mortal Instruments is too drab.

Hollywood is once again attempting to cash in on an adaptation of a young adult fantasy novel with The Mortal Instruments.  Admittedly, I've never read the novel but I'm going to assume that it's pretty damn good if a movie's being made about it.  However, I can't get on board with Cassandra Clare's crazy idea for her plot that Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the world's great composers, was a shadow hunter whose iconic music tortured demons.  That issue aside, I highly doubt that Harald Zwart's The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones lives up to Clare's book of the same name.  It's just a hunch based on a bad night at the movies.  This unfortunate film gets a wasted rating.  You're going to need some kamikaze shots for this one all thanks to the poor casting.