I finally broke down and saw The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. I was underwhelmed, but I went in expecting to be, so I can deal with it. I got really into Cassandra Clare‘s book series, which is well-written and funny, reinvigorating urban fantasy and not going completely Twilight, so I knew to be wary of anything that messed with the books I enjoyed so much.
First and foremost, the casting. Lily Collins, Aidan Turner, Lena Headey, Jared Harris, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers were the only ones cast properly. Collins particularly does a great job as Clary, which I had doubts about when I saw that she’d been cast. She emotes so well throughout the entire film, demonstrating just how tired and shellshocked she would be if her entire world came crashing down. Unfortunately, none of her costars (save those named above) can match her level.
Jace was completely, totally, and utterly wrong. Jamie Campbell Bower looks 30, and is too emo for Jace. While Jace has emotional depth in the books, and he can brood with the best of them, he is the most amazingly sarcastic, narcissistic characters ever–and this is delightful. While Bower is physically fit and unable to wear a shirt that closes, he brings nearly none of the trait which Jace employs most: his snarky sarcasm which he wears as a banner. He trades in his myriad, bravado-laced, hilarious one-liners for husky whispers of sweet nothings to Clary. This is unfortunate and unforgivable.
Alec and Isabel (Kevin Zegers and Jemima West) look even older than Bower, and they lack any personality other than grump and gruff. Finally, Simon. That poor old man is not a strong actor, and when set against Lily Collins he just looks poorer. He was there for the sole reason of creating a love-angst triangle. While that’s there in the books, this is a sad reduction of his character. Finally, Magnus Bane was completely stonefaced–wholly emotionless. Are you kidding? This is a flamboyant, glittery warlock with a cat named Chairman Meow (also absent) at a party filled with fairies and other downworlders. He never changes his expression once! Please.
This brings me to a point that irks me about a lot of YA book adaptations (though a lot of other teen films do this as well, not just book adaptations). Why can’t we have actors who are the same age of their characters? This is so often a major distraction. Honestly, when the character looks like they’re about to graduate college rather than high school, why hire them? Twilight did it right for Kristen Stewart’s Bella but not for Pattinson. Harry Potter did it right until the production time overshot their age. The Percy Jackson series has so many flaws that this is the least of its worries, but it still makes this mistake.
Anyway, back to the film. Plot wise, this hits the high points of the book, but with none of its depth. Granted, these are long books, but some attention could be paid to the substance and we could have been spared the reductionist rendering. This is a complex series, with multiple subplots and subtext that becomes more significant as the series moves forward, yet this is a surface-level film on the whole, which directly led to its underestimation and lightweight showing in the box office and critical reviews.
As I said, this is what I expected, so I’m not as mad as I’d be if I was hoping for greatness. But still, don’t make a film based on beloved books while paying little to no attention to what makes them beloved in the first place.
P.S. If they gut The Fault in Our Stars, I’ll scream.