The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is a movie based on the first in a book series by Cassandra Clare. I want to preface this entire commentary by telling you that I haven’t read the books (though thanks to this movie, I definitely want to do so now!) so this is from the point of view of someone approaching the story and characters without knowing anything in advance. There will probably be spoilers, sweetie.
City of Bones begins with Clary’s birthday. Clary Fray is a seemingly normal girl with a clearly-friend-zoned best friend named Simon. She has a weird quirk where she draws odd symbols when her mind is wandering (or when she’s asleep). Mostly she draws an odd, angular symbol, but some other things as well.
Clary and Simon go out to a club for her birthday, and she begins to see things that other people don’t seem to notice, like the strange symbols she draws and even people. She witnesses what she thinks is a terrible murder and goes home, horrified. The next day, however, her entire world turns on its head as her mother is kidnapped and she finds herself in the company of Jace, the seeming murderer from the previous night. Fleeing home, she finds herself encountering a demonic rottweiler only to be saved by Jace, and she (joined by Simon, who doesn’t want to leave her side) begins a strange quest to find her mother and discover the truth about who she is and who her real family is, all while fending off a swarm of demons that seem to never stop coming.
That quest brings Clary and Simon to the Institute, where the Shadow Hunters have lived for ages. Clary, it turns out, is the daughter of a Shadow Hunter, or demon killer, and the angular symbol she’s been doodling stands for them. She must regain suppressed memories with the help of a warlock named Magnus Bane and work with the Shadow Hunters to find the Cup that gives all of the Shadow Hunters their power and which is the focus of the conflict between good and evil, at least at this juncture.
I have to say, I was concerned going into this movie that I wouldn’t be able to follow the plot having not read the book. Thinking back to the first Harry Potter movie and how people who went to see it with me without reading the book were confused, I was worried this movie would be beyond me. Not only was I wrong about that, I found myself so drawn into the story and the characters that I now want to read the books, not to understand what I saw, but to find out what happens next.
The pacing of this movie is very good, and I like the slow reveal of the different parts of the Shadow World; we get to find out about aspects of this “other reality” as Clary does, but much like Clary and Simon must simply adapt and keep moving forward, so must we. There is enough explanation of things (like the rune-tattoos that each give a different augmentation to the person bearing it) that we are able to understand their significance and also their use in the story.
At one point Clary begins giving herself rune-tattoos, but only after studying them and copying them out of a book. Even she is surprised with the rune that forms to protect her and her companions from a mob of demons. Her instincts are almost a little too good, and yet she spends a lot of time freaking out about the whole situation rather than simply accepting it. I appreciate this balance of character: she’s afraid but still manages to do what she needs to do.
One of the things I found most fascinating about the movie was that even though Clary’s new group of Shadow Hunter and werewolf friends (and yes, there are vampires, too, but they aren’t so friendly) are, in theory anyway, fighting against evil and against actual demons, that they themselves seem to live on the cusp of darkness themselves. The tone of the movie allows them to exist in a questionable state, so that the entire time I couldn’t be sure any of them were on Clary’s side, and neither could she. Early on, Jace tells her that she can’t trust anyone because they might not be who she thinks they are, and this advice holds for the entire movie, and even for Jace himself.
The last act of the movie involves a battle between the forces of good and evil, in as much as we can discern them, at the Institute. So often battles like this are simply for the sake of having a good, exciting fight scene, but in this case I was pleasantly surprised to find the fight not only well done, but essential to the action. Each of the characters has a motivation for fighting, and a task that must be accomplished, and it raises the stakes to make for a great climax.
Random thoughts about specific stuff: I’m not sure if Jace and Clary really are siblings, but the casting was fantastic– they look enough like each other that it makes you wonder. I’m also interested in why Simon hasn’t shown any vampiric tendencies other than corrected eyesight. I wasn’t surprised at all about Luke’s identity, nor was I surprised he was a good guy. I don’t understand what Clary’s mom Jocelyn took to make her sleep, and what the point was, assuming that the demons (or whoever) could just destroy her once they had Clary. I mean, why keep her alive if Clary could get them the Cup? That didn’t make much sense, even in a “Oh, Valentine’s still in love with her!” sort of way.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and would recommend it to anyone who likes a good fantasy adventure. And I’ll be in line to see the sequel next year!