As a lover of young adult literature and a fan of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, I was delighted to hear that City of Bones (Sony Pictures, August 2013; PG-13) would be made into a film. I was further delighted to actually see the movie (I may or may not have been counting down the days to release). As with any movie based on a book, I was curious to see how the filmmakers would transition the story and hopeful it would result in a movie just as enjoyable as the book. I was quite pleased with the result.
As in the book series, the New York of the Mortal Instruments is an impressively developed world, populated by Mundanes (normal people), Shadowhunters (half angel/half human demon hunters), Downworlders (vampires, werewolves, etc.), and a vast array of terrifying demons.
The movie begins with protagonist Clary (Lilly Collins) going about everyday teen activities — talking on the phone, getting coffee, hanging out with her best friend, Simon (Robert Sheehan) — but takes a turn for the weird when she witnesses what appears to be a cold-blooded murder at club Pandemonium. With that, the world Clary had believed herself to be a part of disappears; she is thrown into the Shadowhunters’ New York, where she meets the dangerous and oh-so-beautiful Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), the soft-spoken and defensive Alec (Kevin Zegers), and the lethal and lovely Isabelle (Jemima West). When her mother (Lena Headey) goes missing, Clary turns to the teen Shadowhunters for help, and Jace is more than willing to oblige.
Collins, maybe best known as Snow White from Mirror Mirror, delivers an intense and believable performance, showing Clary as a complex young woman who, unlike so many other YA protagonists, maintains her strong character identity while on a personal quest. The likeness between Collins and Headey is remarkable, depicting a mother and daughter who share a large number of physical traits (including red hair that does not quite match their brown eyebrows). While Headey is comatose for much of the movie, she makes a strong impact as the ex-Shadowhunter mother, giving a glimpse into the world from which she has protected Clary.
And in this world, there is Jace. Ah, Jace. Clare’s fans, as any good fans would be, were rabid over the casting of Jace. The character is aggressive, arrogant, and cutting as well as charming, loving, and vulnerable. Bower inhabits this character so beautifully, it is as if Clare had created Jace based on him — he seamlessly flips from dangerous to sensitive, intense to sarcastic, in love to heartbreakingly wounded. Had I not already been in love with Jace from the book, Bower would have won me over the second he appeared on screen. Sheehan also gives a fabulous performance, depicting Simon as the nerdy, wisecracking best friend who is secretly a hunk underneath those glasses.
The fight scenes are well choreographed with just the right amount of grit and blood, the world of the Shadowhunters both darkly sexy and starkly beautiful, and the dialogue quick-moving and occasionally very funny. City of Bones gives the viewer powerful imagery and world-building as well: the self-mutilated Silent Brothers induce chills, the scene in the Hotel Dumort is deliciously scary, and the sets and costumes create just the right dark atmosphere. The costuming leans a lot on black and leather to show just how tough the Shadowhunters are, but hey, it worked for Blade and The Matrix. Further, details built into the film will thrill Mortal Instruments readers: every Shadowhunter (even the teens) has a European accent (perhaps because they are all originally from Idris?).
The adaptation does not strictly follow Clare’s plot, deviating from the novel enough that a reader of City of Bones, like a first-time viewer, has to pay close attention to the development of the story. The movie is fast-paced, moody, and exciting, with endearing moments of bright sarcastic wit and new-found love. While a few plot points may be slightly confusing, the studio plans on a number of sequels in which we’ll hopefully have lingering questions answered. Altogether, City of Bones tells an engaging tale full of characters you can’t help but fall in love with. I, for one, cannot wait for the next installment, City of Ashes.