Mortal Instruments: City of Bones Review Pt. 2

What makes that horrendous sin to literature I committed in that last sentence pale in comparison to what occurs in Mortal Instruments? Simple: Jace hooks up his magic stylus pen to a bookshelf where it ripples like a Super Mario 64 portal in a CG effect taken out of PS1 era graphics engine to show what is occurring on the other side of the book shelf. Okay I know there’s efficient and that can come over looking dignified but there comes a time and place audience. A time and place…

This is where we find out that Luke is a werewolf (that also doesn’t turn at the phase of a full moon) because through the torture one of the ninjas inquires the poor chap about his transformation patterns and you see Luke’s hands turn to claws in quick temporary flashes that look so unconvincing that they look like they were torn out of the Wolfman. Not the 2010 atrocity mind you, I’m talking about the Wolfman’s effects from the movie from the early 1900s.

This is where we experience (a term I put loosely) our first action scene where Jace whips out blades left and right out of his trench coat. Nah I’m just kidding! He decides to fence them like an English gentleman! Yeah Jace, good luck taking out ninjas each the size of a professional wrestler with a crystallized version of a phoenix tail feather wand. You always have your magic stylus to dramatically carve painful runes into your skin to heal your wounds. *slams head against concrete wall*

After the two escape danger by Luke’s suggestion, they find two possessed cops outside the bookstore ready to butcher the shadowhunters. Then after Jace dispatches both cops in a fashion only Lethal Weapon could top Simon shrieks about how Jace killed a couple of cops. Jace responds by exposing Simon to the wrath of the back side of his hand repeatedly like Stallone from any movie where he plays a cop. Psyche! He just says some silly one-liner about how they weren’t cops and that they were demons in disguise… so exactly like Stallone in any movie where he plays a cop…

Clary was injured in the process so, as a result, Jace carries her to a place called the Institute (a creative name for a hang out of supernatural humans if I do say so myself). I swear this place just looked like a fancy house in the book, nothing big, nothing extravagant, and certainly (as the movie suggests) not an enormous Hogwarts-lite castle in the heart of the city!

I mean talk about subtlety here shadowhunters! And no they don’t really explain why the Institute is invisible to mundanes and they don’t really explain why shadowhunters are invisible to mundanes as well. Granted it’s implied that the runes that are drawn onto shadowhunter skins grant certain abilities so perhaps invisibility is conferred via a certain rune. Yeah. I remember that one time I made a rune on my skin and it allowed me to go through walls, see invisible spirits, and most importantly give me minty fresh breath and play pog like nobody’s business (if the movie is going 90s on me than why not I retort?).

There’s this one funny scene where when etching a “cure” rune into Clary, she asks “is this the part where you’re supposed to rip your shirt and bandage the wound for me?” and Jace dryly retorts “if you wanted me to take my clothes off I would have done it for you.” Gotta love that prick!

It is here at the institute where we meet up again with the voluptuous Isabelle (they’re portrayed in their mid-20s in this film, don’t worry I’m not crossing any red tape here) and her brother the emo Alec Lightwood. I honestly do say this will full convictions because at the rate Alec broods he could possibly out-brood Squall Leonheart from Final Fantasy 8. Hell, when they etch runes into their skin unlike the book that implies that their tools act like super-advanced charcoal sticks they use large cumbersome sonic-screwdrivers to scar their skin into the desired runes that looks far more painful than it should (and winds up looking pretty funny in scenes too). In the book both he (and Isabella) were far more developed beyond the “emo” and “slutty-girl” stereotypes they’re portrayed as in the film. This hinders the movie considerably because there are several scenes where Clary voices her concerns to Jace about her rocky relationship with Alec and then out of the blue flat out exploits Alec’s homosexual crush towards Jace in a scene that tries to cater to his characterization in the book but in the end comes off as exploitative and surprisingly offensive. This is all because his character simply does not talk to Clary all that much, if that, in the movie.

Speaking of Alec, when the shadowhunter trio lead Clary (after recovering) to their mentor Hodge (played by a bewildered Jared Harris) to talk about the nature of shadowhunters, how their order was forged, the bare bare bare bare bare bare bare bare bare bare bare bare bare BARE bones of their mythology, and expository information Alec whispers to Jace “you know the rune to cure a broken heart is the most painful to etch” or something along the lines. A line so cheesy and on the spot that it actually serves as literal foreshadowing. It left me in stiches.

Okay to be fair to the movie Hodge also tells Clary that her mother Jocelyn was a shadowhunter and (in fashion of Harry Potter, Star Wars, etc.) she was one of the best shadowhunters evar. With forced exposition unraveling the elements of the story in short bursts of narrative incompetence the film abridges much of the book’s gradual revelations regarding Clary’s nature as a shadowhunter. Granted the book had pacing problems worse than porn too but at least it still had enough heart to keep the story as intact as possible.

Hodge also tells Clary about the Mortal Instrument that was found in the image of the card. He tells that it’s a magical cup that whenever drunk from it the drinker could have a relatively slim chance of becoming a shadowhunter. Okay, so they’re an exact replica of the Grey Wardens from Dragon Age only much more reliant on special tattoos that give them magical abilities. With that logic the Hell’s Angels biker gang could quite literally be… well… Hell’s Angels…

To figure out what’s the deal with what and through somewhat unforgivable on-the-nose exposition Jace has to lead Clary to the City of Bones, a place where she can figure out why she’s able to see the shadowhunters despite the fact that she’s a mundane. To access Jace and her wait in a graveyard for one of the Silent Brothers, terrifying figures in the books that were somewhat disturbing and mysterious in equal amounts. In the book. In the movie I swear the director just stole a Slipknot costume left over from their early days. And coincidentally the Brother’s hilariously projected voice sounds exactly like if Corey Taylor decided to do a Kermit the Frog impression.

The Silent Brothers seep into Clary’s mind and pull out jagged and repressed memories of her seeing Jocelyn covering up her shadowhunter tats (I’m no longer calling them runes) and Jocelyn taking little Clary to a large mansion every other shot. After an honest-to-Jehovah mess of a revelation that was more akin to recalling bad acid flashbacks after watching Pan’s Labyrinth under the influence, Clary writes out in some weird language that’s never really explained. Jace manages to translate it (just… like… a… shadowhunter? Okay…) as “Bane”.

Now this could mean two things to him: either she could have repressed memories about The Dark Knight Rises (can’t blame her) or she could be referring to Brooklyn’s chief warlock Magnus Bane (played by an overly flamboyant Saix from Organization XIII – whoops, Godfrey Gao). Naturally since Jace is apparently psychic he assumes its Magnus Bane because he is a most stylin’ worlock.

Since Simon was somehow roped into all of this providing the audience with a second pair of mundane eyes to relate to the tomfoolery that is being displayed through this celluloid, he along with Isabelle, Jace, Alec, and Clary somehow get a hold of Bane’s current location in the second night club this film sports.

Before they went into the night club they decide to go into a church. Apparently the Vatican supports the shadowhunter’s efforts to essentially play adult D&D so they armed every church and shrine with a stash of weapons so anachronistic and absurd they either came straight out of a Square Enix video game or Paul W.S. Anderson dropped off whatever left over props he didn’t want from his atrocity-of-a-film the Three Musketeers 3D.

Okay it’s less a nightclub and more like a brony gala with slightly more furries, slightly more trolls, and slightly more professional larpers. I’ll admit some of the creature designs are actual prosthetic effects (a concept in the year 2013!) which works for the job but are unfortunately only glanced over until we see Magnus Bane in some truly high-comedy makeup and anime cosplay. I mean Sailor Moon characters don’t look nearly as degrading and over-the-top batshit insane as the warlock sporting everything from less clothes than a female R&B singer from 2004 or a male hair metal guitarist from the 80s along with witchin’ eye shadow straight out of a Marilyn Manson music video. I give the actors so much credit for wearing such degrading clothes…

While the rest of the gang hang out at a bar and get offered exotic alcoholic beverages that look like a combination between moonshine and colloidal silver, Clary and Bane then chit-chat over Clary’s nature as a shadowhunter and how she didn’t know about her nature until now, sending Clary to Bane every two years to wipe away all the memories of potential encounters with mythical creatures. Fascinating concept and could make for some unique storytelling, but alas this contrived plot-point is cut short when suddenly out of the blue Simon gets kidnapped!

He takes a drink of a blue magic potion given to him by a shady fella so potent even Link from the Zelda series would have second thoughts on downing it. Come on! He’s raised in New York, I think every teenager from 16 on gets lectured every time before they go out and party to not take drinks from random strangers, especially if they dress like cosplayers who dress like cosplayers dressing as characters from the Final Fantasy series! Man… drinking etiquette…

Of course on the run the next scene cuts to a cheap looking motel called Hotel Dumort (ha ha get it?) where Isabelle explains the place is actually a vampire den. While this scene drastically differs from the book it at least brings us to more funny images. It is here where the kids pretend like they’re in Call of Potter: Modern Witchcraft 4.5, holding their magic stylus pens like military torches and holding a crystallized knife in the other hand.

Before traumatizing memories of me playing in some pretty warped Team Fortress 2 stages could arise and cause me to contort into fits of agony the gang find Simon’s unconscious body hung up on dozens of chains high above the air in the central room. Freeing the poor chap required a little creativity but nothing our gang of psychic jedi wizards couldn’t handle… that is until they attempt the escape and enter what should be considered the cafe of the motel where in the fashion of the Moria goblins from Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring vampires straight out of a Joss Whedon TV show that thankfully never made it to air.

There is not even an inkling of an inkling of hope within me to compare the following fight scene to the iconic Balin’s Tomb scene from Fellowship of the Ring, but I have to be honest don’t I? They hit the same notes in this fight. Except it was choreographed by a coked out otaku surviving on nothing but Naruto DVDs, ramen, and paki so the fight winds up turning into “Fellowship of the Ring… and Wire-fu”.

And in succinct capriciousness that ridiculous description is not even a word off. Ever wanted to know what Lord of the Rings would look like if it dropped a lot of acid, licked a lot of toads, and was made out to be a comedy would look like? Of course not! My sweet goodness does this scene not disappoint! I don’t want to spoil the artistry of this moment because it’s like something out of an Uwe Boll movie.

I’m not kidding here. This is coming from someone who masochistically subjected themselves to “Dungeon Siege”, “BloodRayne”, “Alone in the Dark” and “House of the Dead” and enjoyed every last second of those distinctive masterpieces.

And yes I’ll be washing my tongue with soap later.

After about ten minutes of beautiful art the gang get pushed through the room and up to the roof where the vampire attack truly climaxes when an army of werewolves supposedly jumped from the (PROBABLY STILL BUSY) streets of Manhattan to attack the vampires in their shanty motel. Wow. You know those middle schoolers who argue about which species can kick the asses of which other species: vampires vs. werewolves? That actually serves as a plot point in this movie.

Yeah.

Although to be fair this plot point that even an elementary school student would call bogus on was in the book. It was ludicrous there but is rendered so gloriously with shoddy CGI in the movie that it winds up being a part of the overall artistry of Hotel Dumort.

Although if I were to divulge some actual artistic credit to the director (and consequently Cassandra Clare) for not making Clary a legit badass from her first kill as if to imply that becoming a badass requires the taking of life. You almost never see that in the Mortal Instruments’ contemporaries (*cough* Hunger Games *cough*) and is overall not a keystone for the development of the character but is, regardless, a moral dilemma that they must deal with and reflect upon as consequence of the action. It’s handled as if to imply that actually taking a life in a fantasy setting actually has weight and consequence and is not just thrown away as an expendable commodity for the sake of blood and pseudo-Darwinian proclamations of strength and dominance. It’s actually somewhat realistic.

Just when I was going to give this movies some artistic merit the movie enters the realm of resolute and glorious shlock. First part revolves around Simon patching up some of the wounds he received from his night in the vampire den (wow… good song title) where it is disseminated that upon wearing his glasses he deems them superfluous. His vision apparently got better. In the book this was left as a mystery until it was discovered in the later books that he actually was bitten that night and was in the beginning stages of metamorphosis into a vampire. You probably realized at this point in the movie that this film has the subtlety of a train wreck (a fitting metaphor) so gradual revelation is ultimately destroyed by carelessly placing fang marks somewhere on his body when Clary inspects closely. It is at this moment when Clary all of a sudden gets a little too cozy with him, so cozy they hold hands like preschoolers, so cozy he falls asleep-

NO! How the hell do you do an impression of Kevin Costner on rhino tranquilizers when Lily freaking Collins is holding your hand!? Phil does not approve…

The second jumping-of-the-shark was amalgamated from a cliche Interview with the Vampire almost sexualized, Twilight damaged beyond recognition, and this movie used to somehow beautifully urinated all over and managed to polish it to a glossy sheen; the cliche of the sparkly/brooding love interest playing piano gracefully in front of a window illuminated in the cold grey light of day. Okay, the shark was jumped when Clary saw Jace playing Bach in front of a nice large portrait of Bach. Jace then halts his Baroque symphony and extrapolates the connection between demons and music. Silly, sounds like something out of a bad translation of Greek mythical literature, but I can at least believe that from a fantasy film. Then, however, he further elaborates that the music of J.S. Bach was specifically engineered to ward off demons from the earthly plane because J.S. Bach was a shadowhunter.

Yeah… And George Washington was a vampire, Lincoln was of course a slayer of these, Ben Franklin was actually a reanimated corpse bent on taking over the government through ideology and delusions of freedom (how is that any different from politicians today?), and Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence on top of a treasure map only found by squirting lemon juice onto it and holding it up to the light.

Just when you thought you stepped into a full on Simon Pegg style satire you’d realize you were dead wrong because once Clary goes up to see Jace and see how he’s been doing they resume their googly eyed affair.

I forgot to mention that throughout the past half-hour of the film it’s implied (by “implied” I of course mean slammed against the audience’s collective consciousness) that Jace and Clary might have a thing for each other when Simon has something for Clary. Oh good another love triangle…

To make the cliche come full circle Jace “Jim” Morrison decides to light Clary’s fire by bringing her to the token vaguely romantic garden in the middle of the castle. Of course. Every single note and cliche of this romance is so perfectly hit in this scene (Jace picks up flower, places it in Clary’s hair, dance around, run in garden, Disney princess crap, etc.) with such swiftness and deft/accidental comedic timing that the scene almost renders itself parody. I say “almost” because there is no educated film maker in existence (even Ed Wood) who would commission rainfall at a moment so specific to their falling in love that when the tears fall down (all around me!) the romantic pair kiss ever-so-passionately! Then, just when you thought this scene could not be better put, a musical montage ensues!

I did not make a syllable of that last paragraph up.

Without exaggeration here, every sentient life form (yes mice, insects, and even advanced bacteria) was laughing their asses clean off their anatomies! Even the teen demographic that enjoyed the Twilight series was in stitches after this scene. This scene is easily worth the price of admission alone because you can make so many jokes about this scene.

My personal favorite is “IT’S LIKE RAIIIIAAAAAIIIIINNNNNNNNNNN ON YOUR WEDDING DAY!”

Good luck getting that song stuck out of your head.

So after a scene that will become an eventual internet meme to ride along with the other accidentally funny scenes from bad movies like “Harry Potter… the boy who lived… has come to die…” and “NO NOT THE BEES! NOT THE BEES! AHHHHHH!” the romantic pair in hand skip down the hall to where Simon was resting and this is where the stilted romantic dialogue comes into sharp focus, the laughter gets killed for a good twenty minutes, we are subjected to the crap that made Twilight the utterly despicable train wreck it was and the movie just pulls the drag shoot big time. I swear coming from the funniest scene in a movie ever since the famous “Who’s on First” sketch from Abbott and Costello’s The Naughty Nineties this scene is like waking up from a dream where you were a ninja space pirate commandeering a ship like the Normandy from Mass Effect only to get up, get showered and be ready by seven to go to your little brother’s communion. There aren’t enough swear words in the Andromeda galaxy alone that can contain the amount of hatred everyone has for these kinds of scenes!

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