Major spoilers for the movie and for the book series. Do NOT read if you don’t want spoilers.
I have enjoyed even loved some very loosely adapted films (How to Train Your Dragon, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, even The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian). In fact, sometimes the looser adaptations make better movies, I’ve come to realize, but sadly, Harald Zwart’s adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is not one of these instances.
Really, I have two major problems with the adaptation’s plot:
1) Simon, if you want to have him bitten now, cannot then be okay with sunlight before drinking the blood of a Shadowhunter.
Vampires don’t just become Daylighters, and if you plan on a second movie, I want a thorough explanation of how hanging him in a shaft of sunlight (where was that sunlight coming from since it was still dark outside?) made him into a Daylighter, this being a conscious attempt by the vampires of New York to create such a creature.
Simon’s Daylighting without having drunk Shadowhunter blood I might have been able to rant about and let go (as I do with Chris Columbus’ and Craig Titley’s decision to make Hades the villain of The Lightning Thief), however:
2) Having Jace recognize Valentine as the man who raised him is what creates the tension in the climax.
The screenwriter, Jessica Postigo, attempted to avoid the lengthy explanation of Valentine assuming Michael Wayland’s identity and then later faking Michael’s death by placing a memory block upon Jace like the one that Magnus creates for Clary and giving Jace one solid memory of his father that he shared with both Clary and the audience prior (though it was not mentioned that this was his only memory of his father, and perhaps it should have been). She then has Valentine be able to show him that memory through some sort of spell. I understand wanting to avoid that lengthy dialogue and can even thank her for the attempt, however, that proof was not enough for me to believe that Valentine was Jace’s father, and I was surprised that it was enough for Jace.
If a shared memory is how you want to have Jace come to realize that Valentine is his “father,” rather than having him recognize Valentine on sight, then that memory needs to be shown from two perspectives, or at least needs to be shown from Valentine’s in this later instance, not from a third or omniscient perspective, because as it is filmed the memory seems to be neither of theirs but rather the memory of a third person, watching, and the claim that Valentine is Jace’s father and the man who gave him the falcon is nullified. (This quibble reminds me of this lesson by rufftoon in storyboarding.)
Also having Hodge suggest that Valentine lie to both Clary and Jace, telling both that he is their father implies that neither are his children when in fact, according to the series, Clary is Valentine’s legitimate daughter and Jace was raised by Valentine, and again, to suggest otherwise destroys the conflict and tension of the story.
One more, broader quibble: Emphasizing Jace’s ability to play the piano (though I like the Bach as a Shadowhunter idea) only serves to draw a connection between him and Edward Cullen. The original fans of Cassandre Cla(i)re were not Twihards (fans of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga). The original fans were Potterheads, The Mortal Instruments being an evolution of a Harry Potter fanfiction series. Twihards and Potterheads are in something of a fandom war.1 By taking our series (I am a Potterhead without being a Twihard) and trying to pander it to the Twihards, you perhaps win the Twihards to your movie but at the expense of a large, invested, and committed group. Those who were or are Twihards may be ready now to be introduced to The Mortal Instruments, but we, the Potterheads, loved it first.2
Also, it needs to be mentioned—particularly for parents deciding whether to take their children—that the violence in this movie is graphic and realistic. Imitating a Killing Curse causes no physical hurt; smashing someone’s face with a frying pan or a fridge door can cause some real damage. I was rather impressed actually by Zwart’s refusal to shy from the violence that surrounds the lives of Shadowhunters if I grew a bit tired of extended battle sequences that were mostly too busy and too fast to follow.
The farther back I step and the more I analyze the adaptation, the more forgiving I become, but I was not a pleased fan at 2:30 AM on August 21, and I really did dislike that the novel’s internal conflict seemed to be shunted aside:
Jace tightened his grip on the angel blade. “I can–“
“No, you can’t.” Valentine reached out, through the Portal, and seized Jace’s wrist in his hand, dragging it forward until the tip of the seraph blade touched his chest. Where Jace’s hand and wrist passed through the Portal, they seemed to shimmer as if they had been cast in water. “Do it, then,” said Valentine. “Drive the blade in. Three inches–maybe four.” He jerked the blade forward, the dagger’s tip slicing the fabric of his shirt. A red circle like a poppy bloomed just over his heart. Jace, with a gasp, yanked his arm free and staggered back.
“As I thought,” said Valentine. “Too softhearted.” (464)
That is heart-wrenching, tells us a great deal about Jace, proves that Valentine knows Jace very well, and shows us a touch of Valentine’s insanity more so than Valentine battering Jace aside as Jace attempts to get near enough to break his pentagram.
1 There are of course Potterheads who are also Twihards and vice versa.
2 Cassandra Clare is not universally beloved by Potterheads, but she is one of us. I am unsure whether she is also a Twihard.
The Mortal Instruments: The City of Bones. Dir. Harald Zwart. Constantin, Don Carmody, Unique Features. 2013.
Clare, Cassandra. The Mortal Instruments, Book 1: City of Bones. New York: Margaret K. McElderry-Simon & Schuster, 2007.
This review is not endorsed by Constantin Film Produktion, Don Carmody Productions, Unique Features, Harald Zwart, Jessica Postigo, anyone involved in the making of the film, Cassandra Clare, Simon & Schuster, or Margaret K. McElderry Books. It is an independent, honest review by a viewer.