August 20, 2013


I don’t even really know where to begin with The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, but that’s okay because the movie doesn’t really know where to begin either.  It’s a sloppy, shoddy excuse for a fantasy love story where supernatural creations and teen romance are smushed together in the hopes of creating thrills and drama.  It’s the equivalent of throwing a bunch of stale ingredients on a table, and then wondering why a meal hasn’t magically happened.  It’s difficult to even level the charge of cynical calculation because calculation would at least require some effort.  Harold Zwart’s adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s novel is an interminable slog filled with thinly drawn characters, a ramshackle plot, a laughable love story, and perfunctory mythology that never feels magical.

Clary Fray (Lily Collins) has started seeing symbols and people that others can’t.  She learns that her ability comes from being the daughter of a shadowhunter.  Shadowhunters are half-humans, half-angels who can choose to stay hidden from mundanes (i.e. normal humans), and are tasked with protecting humanity from demons, vampires, werewolves, and other mythological creatures.   When her mother (Lena Headey) is kidnapped, Clary begins a search with shadowhunter Jace Weyland (Jamie Campbell Bower), which eventually leads her to hunt for a magical cup.  The cup is also being tracked by ex-shadowhunter Valentine (Johnathan Rhys Myers) who wants it for vague but nefarious purposes.  In between the half-baked mystical gobbledygook is a love triangle between Clary, Jace, and Clary’s platonic friend Simon (Robert Sheehan) as well as a second love triangle between Clary, Jace, and Jace’s closeted pal Alec (Kevin Zegers).


The urgency in the first half of The Mortal Instruments isn’t to establish characters, but to draw out the world of the shadowhunters.  Ostensibly, Clary is frantically searching for her mom, but along the way she learns about the history of the shadowhunters, why the cup is important, and that her memories were blocked off by her mother as a means of protection from dark forces seeking the cup.  The reason Clary can now see the shadowhunter world is because the memory blocks are falling away and her powers are emerging.  All of this should be fascinating, and the art department has created some eye-catching designs, but there’s no excitement to the discovery.  It’s like walking through a museum, and a tour guide dryly explains what’s hanging on the walls.  The notion of tattoos functioning as magical ruins that provide special powers should be cool, and The Mortal Instruments just buries it in a heap of mythology.

Sure, vampires, werewolves, demons, and magical powers are all well and good, but Clary doesn’t have half the enthusiasm for these mystical aspects as she does for Jace’s dreamy eyes, and that’s saying something when you consider that Collins and Bower have no chemistry.  The film rests on the assumption that if Jace is protective of Clary but makes the occasional, cocky quip, then we should immediately buy into their romance.  Instead, when they finally kiss, it’s forced and then made laughable by greenhouse sprinklers turning on just so they can play into the cliché of kissing the rain.  If Zwart intends to get a laugh out of the moment, then he’s undermined the scene because that should be a turning point in the love story.  He’s literally throwing cold water on their romance.


But by then, the story has already cooled considerably.  Halfway through, Clary just seems to stop caring about looking for her mother.  Instead, she’s more obsessed with Jace’s rippling abs.  That’s not me being glib.  She literally spends time sketching a picture of Jace without his shirt on while her mother is missing, possibly dead, and the fate of the world hinges on finding a special cup that could irrevocably change the balance of power between shadowhunters and demons.  This is our heroine, and the movie seems far more interested in her vapid love story with Jace.

Zwart has created a directionless, meandering slump of a picture that goes on endlessly.   I may not be the target audience, but if the film wants to have a cheesy love story, it should go for it rather than bringing it to an awkward, icky turn before an unintentionally hilarious resolution.  The most surprising thing about the movie is how much potential it has, and how little it seems to care about realizing that potential.  Clary goes to a couple parties during the course of the movie, and even a fight against a horde of vampires is played like a club scene.  The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is the sullen wallflower that is too timid, too scared, and too bored to dance, and so it misses out on having any fun.

Rating: F


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  • Mattie Dubbs

    Great to know these tween movies still lack any substance…can’t wait for Worlds End Friday! 93% positive with 59 reviews on RT :) Goldberg prediction = C+

    • Adam Chitwood
      • Kale

        Good one Adam! vicious1fan, don’t always assume that Goldberg will give a bad review to anything.

      • Adam Chitwood

        Wasn’t slamming or anything, just wanted to point out that Matt’s review is already up.

      • Kale

        Oh okay! I thought it was funny, that he assumed The review was going to be bad, and then your post reminded me, that Matt gave a glowing review to The World’s End. Anyway, I just believe people shouldn’t assume, that any critic (including Matt Goldberg) will give a terrible review to anything.
        Thanks Adam for the response!

  • IllusionOfLife

    “It’s a sloppy, shoddy excuse for a fantasy love story where supernatural creations and teen romance are smushed together in the hopes of creating thrills and drama. It’s the equivalent of throwing a bunch of stale ingredients on a table, and then wondering why a meal hasn’t magically happened.”

    So it sounds like bad fan fiction, which is completely appropriate considering the novel is LITERALLY a thinly veiled re-working of a Harry Potter fan fiction.

  • Jillian

    I love, love, love the series but there’s been nothing about the trailers, set visits or interviews that have gotten me really excited about the movie. I may still check it out because I want to see how they set up the “twist” but my expectations will definitely be lowered. Thanks for the review!

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  • ska7triumph

    Yeesh. And there’s a sequel in pre-production?
    Lily Collins should really check in with her soul, then maybe her dad. Then her representation. She’s too young (and lucky; don’t know yet about talented) to have this kind of messy trail of underwhelming movies. Just check out her resume: from BLIND SIDE through PRIEST, ABDUCTION and MIRROR MIRROR, (then to meh indies) to this… Maybe TV should be in her plans?

  • Makumabuya

    I wonder how objective Goldber is with his reviews. He rates this movie as an F, yet his review seems pretty mild in comparison to his reviews of Star Trek Into Darkness and Kick-Ass 2. Additionally, he gave those movies higher ratings than Mortal Instruments. This leads me to believe that since he expected STID and KA2 to be better, his disappointment motivated him to create more emotional reviews. I don’t mean to make any judgments on Goldberg at all, I read most his reviews and enjoy them. I just mean to make an observation.
    Keep it up Collider!

    • Grayden

      nah, this is pretty scathing. Probably one of his most scathing reviews. That being said, Matt’s admission that he might not be the target audience is a very good indicator that it was going to be rough. As always, there’s an inordinate amount of Matt’s personal bias in the review; not being a fan of these kinds of films amplify the negative points further. Still, it’s pretty entertaining to read.

      • Dwane Burgess

        I just watching this movie with my friend and her 10 year old daughter. The first thing her daughter says, is. “this movie is awful”. Not even the target audience likes it.

      • Dwane Burgess

        I just watching this movie with my friend and her 10 year old daughter. The first thing her daughter says, is. “this movie is awful”. Not even the target audience likes it.

  • eternalozzie

    hmmm … a “F”? Now I will have to see it … Matt hates a lot of entertaining movies. Who am I lying to? It has Kevin Zeigers and Jamie Campbell Bower in it … of course i’m seeing it.

    This movie wasn’t written for the pseudo film experts here at so I have a feeling a lot of normal people may like it.


      Yours is a soul that cannot be saved.

      • eternalozzie

        I am a souless heathen so that works out OK :)

      • Pk

        Lena headey and Jrm I can understand but Jamie Campbell bower? Seriously?

    • Strong Enough

      yeah it was written for people who like bad films

  • ThisGuy01

    Zwart. What a great last name for a guy who would make a movie like this. “Hey did you see the new Zwart film? No? It was *makes farting noise”

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  • Joe O

    Wow, you didn’t even say Spoiler Alert.

  • dungeons and draccus’s

    F….WOW! I had no hopes for this film, but duuuuude!

  • isakglasses

    ya “F” seems harsh but if it saves us from another twilight like franchise then good work,am tired of all these love triangles,emo vampires and heroines who cant do shit but we r supporsed to root for,i’ll have to catch it on DVD though for my consideration

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  • Toma

    Yep, I was expecting it. 18% tomatometer at the moment. I happen to know the source material, unfortunately, and it lacks any ounce of literary value.

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  • eternalozzie

    Just watched this … it was like watching 2 different movies … the first 20 mins was hard to watch because it was SO poorly written … then the rest minus the one romance scene was actually quite good. I was happy that the studio kept this quite different from Twilight ,,, the hero, Jace, is actually quite a self centered dick which was refreshing from the over romanticized tween male heroes of other tween fiction.

  • angel

    This film requires no thinking whatsoever. If your looking for cheap thrills and a lower standard of storytelling and plot development this is the film for you.

    Here’s another review that might intrigue you.

    It talks even more about the film and its inspirational author.

  • Ron

    im a fan of the books and the movie dont come ou t in my country till SEP 13 but a lot critics are hating it The first book for me is quite bad compare to the others of the series i hope that for the secod movie they learn from their mistakes and can make a good one, cause like you said the movie has potential, the plot in the books is really interesting and i think they didnt translate that to the film

  • jenn

    This is probably the most untrue review ever. Seriously its not bad or cheesy at all. My mother (whos 58) thought it was amazing and loved the twist of the romance. Whoever wrote this must have a serious condition of stupidity. The audience is suppose to be for teenagers and my cousin saw it and became obsessed. I am in my 30s and personally liked it.

  • Thavind

    I went to see this movie the other day and since I’m a big fan of the
    books I was all so excited to actually be able to see my fantasy on the
    big screen. But as the movie started playing everything went down the
    hill. They have changed basic dates which play a big part in the whole
    story since certain events happen at specific time and they actually
    change the whole story. I saw the movie here

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