Saturday, August 30, 2014

Review: Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (Movie)

Warning: This review may make readers lose all respect for this blogger as a legitimate, critical voice.

I went into this movie expecting to be displeased, but found myself enjoying my viewing experience, to my vast surprise.  I liked The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones in the same way that I appreciate The Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars — with the understanding that what I'm watching is sub-par, cheesy, incoherent cinematic material.  Nevertheless, I watch with a mixture of genuine appreciation and semi-disgusted laughter.

The movie adapts the first book in The Mortal Instruments series, a collection of books that was controversially translated from fanfiction — much like Fifty Shades of Grey. (Since almost all books are inspired by others in some fashion or another, I don't find this appropriation too scandalous.) Edit: Have read more on the topic of Clare's alleged plagiarism and now find it a little more more scandalous than I did before.  The storyline follows shadowhunters — partially angelic humans who devote their lives to slaying demons, dark monsters, and sundry.

The story begins with our protagonist, Clary, witnessing a shadowhunter hunting party dispatch a demon in a club.  Problem: normals aren't supposed to be able to see this sort of thing. What follows is Clary's discovery that her mother has been keeping a big secret — Clary and her mother come from a long line of shadowhunters, but are in hiding.  With the cat out of the bag, disaster unrolls rapidly, especially with Clary's mom knowing information regarding a missing shadowhunter artifact that many people beings want to get their sticky fingers on.

Naturally, many of these convoluted plot details are conveyed in the movie through speedily-cut flashback sequences with voice-over narration.  It's as if the movie wants to get through the stuff that makes the story sensical as quickly as possible, so it can devote time to funner things.

I approve!

Part of the fun is Jace, a teenage shadowhunter with bad attitude and bad-ass moves.  He is portrayed by Jamie Campbell Bower, who is a bit of a pale little goblin, which is to say I liked his appearance very much.  No, really, Bower has an incredibly unusual appearance for a heartthrob role.  It's as if his facial features, separated, all qualify as attractive, but put together make up something that is not conventionally handsome.  I give the casting directors props for selecting such an odd, wonderful creature for this role.

Lily Collins was cast as Clary, which excited me at first, as I have a total girl-crush on this actress.  To my surprise, I wound up not eating up her performance.  Book-Clary is a sweet, lovable thing, but Collins portrayed the character as somewhat sullen, peevish, and demanding.  This made moments where Collins acted precious less convincing.

The rest of the casting is hit-or-miss as well.  Lena Headey was cast as Clary's mom (I forget the character's actual name) and her brief appearance was stand-out.  I especially loved Headey's action sequence where she devastates some demons with kitchen appliances. Godfrey Gao was fan-favorite character, Magnus Bane.  Unfortunely, Gao was dreadful in this role.  He delivered his lines as if they came from a teleprompter.  Not even his boxers/blazer wardrobe and guy-liner could enliven his cardboard performance.

As for the action scenes, excepting Lena Headey's awesomeness, many of these fight sequences were laughable.  On more than one occasion, I could see the characters visibly brace themselves before being lifted up by their post-production-removed bungee harnesses.  The characters would be fighting off a hoard of combatants at one moment, but then suddenly have time to exchange lingering glances with one another, or run a hand through their hair.

The sets were really cheap looking as well; there was even a staircase that shook when the actors sat on it.  The Silent Brothers were a laughingstock and —

"Wait, wait, wait!" you might say.  Ellen, weren't you supposed to like this movie?

I did!

Thing was, my expectations for this movie were so low.  The film was universally panned by critics and fans of the books alike.  I was expecting a disaster.  But I didn't think this movie was a complete disaster.  Sure, there are a lot of elements that are contemptible, but I also found myself genuinely enjoying the movie. Even genuinely laughing. As in, laughing when the filmmakers wanted me to laugh.  There were so many little moments that delighted me:

  • I loved the bizarre costuming. The thigh-length leather vest w/ t-shirt worked! 
  •  I loved average-looking Jemima West (cast as the incomparably beautiful Isabelle Lightwood).  She wielded her CGI whip like a boss.  
  • Jamie Campbell Bower was spectacular at lowering and raising the hood of his black leather jacket.  He frequently had cheesy one-liners to deliver, and actually performed them so well that I chuckled. 
  • The make-up department made the bold decision to make the actors look visibly haggard after their fight scenes.  There's this moment where Lily Collins is dripping sweat and that is fantastic.  
  • And more.
So, even though I wouldn't go so far as to recommend the film to people, I will put it out there that I enjoyed this movie! 

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