Friday, April 17, 2015

So I Just Watched The Mortal Instruments Movie...

... Without ever having read the book, so bear that in mind over the course of this review. That's not to say I'm unfamiliar with the source material, though; City of Bones is one of those inexplicably popular books that's infamous in online sporking circles, and by now I've read a few lengthy reviews and most of a complete sporking. In fact, I'm seriously considering reading the book for my first ever sporking/recap for this blog, although considering my busy upcoming summer schedule, I wouldn't count on me getting around to that for at least a few months.

Why did I watch the movie, then? Well, for starters I was bored, and I guess I wanted to get a taste of what kind of crap I'd be getting myself into with the book. Considering the fact that even fans of the novels seemed to be almost universally panning the film, I was expecting it to be a so-bad-it's-good mockfest on par with Eragon and The Last Airbender. But surprisingly, it not actually all that bad...

I know, I'm just as shocked as you are.
(WARNING: I have this review tagged as spoiler free, but be aware that there may be a few spoilers for the ending, although nothing that gives away The Big Plot Twist. From what I know of the book the final battle in the movie is quite different and ends much differently, so I don't have too many qualms about giving it away just a bit.)
I'm not trying to say that City of Bones is a good movie by any stretch of the imagination; the dialogue is often stilted, the acting leaves something to be desired, the pacing wasn't very good, plot holes are in abundance. But it could be a LOT worse and for what it is it's a reasonably entertaining movie. True, I probably could have spent those two hours watching House of Cards (or doing homework, or reading the two books I've been promising to review for weeks), but I don't feel like I wasted my time. Not all the jokes were terrible, there were a handful of witty/interesting/cute character moments, and the action scenes were pretty awesome.

That being said, City of Bones is about the least original fantasy story since, well, Eragon, and quite possibly even less original than that. The plot is basically the most trite, overdone, and predictable thing ever: an average teenage girl finds out she's a member of a secret lineage of magical warriors and turns out to be the key to finding the McGuffin plot device before the villain, who everyone thought was dead for 15 years.
Gee, I can't possibly guess where they're going with this complex and fascinating plot!
Hardly anything about the movie (and from what I've heard, the book) is original. It's one of those "all myths are true" fantasy kitchen sink-type stories that all new fantasy authors think they can write, but very few can actually pull off well. And Cassandra Clare/the screenwriters are obviously not among those who can. I feel like the worldbuilding held some promise, but it came across as half-baked and made the movie just seem very sloppy and messy as a whole.

Take the vampire scene, for example. Now, as I said I have yet to read the book and I can't remember this part very well from the sporking, so I don't know if the vampires had a much more expanded role than they did in the movie. But it would seems as though the "rescue the drugged, bound, and shirtless Simon from the evil vampires" subplot only existed to showcase that yes, all myths are true and this world does indeed have vampires. Because all the kool kidz are into vampires these days, so audiences will eat that shit right up, even if they're totally pointless and do nothing to advance the plot! Seriously, all they really do is impede the advancement of the plot and cause the movie to drag. This distracting time waster is poorly justified with a brief mention that the vampires were actually trying to bait protagonist Clary in order to get the Mortal Cup (the aforementioned McGuffin) for themselves, but the vampires never show up again and we never have a fucking clue as to why they would want the Cup. We know why the good guy Shadowhunters and the big bad Valentine want it, but what use would it be to the vampires?

The lead up to the rescue is also an example of shoddy worldbuilding that raises a lot more questions than provides answers. Clary and her new Shadowhunter buddies head to a church to find a weapons cache, with love interest Jace explaining that shadowhunters and religious organizations are "united in the battle against demons", so pretty much all places of worship store demon-slaying weapons. Question: does this mean that the church, a supposedly "mundane" organization, knows all about the secret underground magical society that "mundies" aren't supposed to know about? Or do the shadowhunters just break into random churches and temples to store weapons in the floor without anyone's permission or knowledge? Also, Jace seems to be a pretty staunch atheist, which begs the question as to why a non-believer would have reason to think that holy ground or holy weapons would provide special protection against demons (who themselves may or may not have anything to do with religion, it's never explained).

Also, while the others gear up with swords, daggers, and magic whips, Jace gives Clary a "vampire gun", which is probably the stupidest weapon ever created. It's not even a projectile weapon, but instead shoots out a wooden(?) spike with a bunch of pointy bits on the end, which is only effective if it's pressed right up against the vampire's heart and then has to be manually retracted after being used once. One would think that if she's already that close to a vampire before she can even use her silly gun she'd either already be dead or better off with literally any other weapon. For Christ's sake, if all you're expecting her to do is stab the enemy just give her a knife, you don't need to invent a complicated new weapon to get the job done! Is Clary so stupid and useless that you don't even expect her to know how stabbing works?

But I digress. Let's talk characters. Clary, for her part, isn't the worst female YA protagonist ever (although from what I know of the books, her counterpart in the source material is a lot worse), but she's "average teenage girl" in the extreme. She's bland, unremarkable, and lacking in any strong personality traits, and we know pretty much nothing about her personal life, only learning that her hobby of choice is art when we see her drawing half-naked pictures of Jace almost halfway through the movie. It's obvious that, like the infamous Bella Swan, Clary Fray is both an author self-insert and a stand-in for the audience, an empty shell with no real substance.

Of course, this utter blandness only serves to highlight that Clary is also a Mary Sue in the extreme. It's painfully obvious to the audience that our dear heroine is boring and unremarkable, yet characters who've barely known her for a day are commenting on how special, unique, and incredibly brave she is. Naturally all the guys (except the gay guy who hates her immediately for eyeing up his crush) want her, and she ends up in the middle of a love triangle. She's useless dead weight in virtually every fight scene, until she starts busting out not just one, but two unique speshul Mary Sue powers, one of which is also a deus ex  machina that never gets explained.

Naturally this film has an obligatory bad boy love interest in the form of Jace, who is pretty infamous for being a class-A dickwad in the books. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that movie!Jace wasn't all that bad. He does give off a creepy, weird vibe at times, yes, and for the majority of the film he's a dry and dull and most of the other characters, but he's not really that much of an asshole. For whatever reason the film tries to sell us on the fact that he is apparently an asshole, though, what with Simon making a comment early on about how Jace "has a pretty big chip off his shoulder", even though barely anything up to that point gives off the impression that he does. He even drifts pretty far into "so cutesy it makes me want to hurl" territory at one point with Clary... which makes his sudden change into an actual asshole that much more sudden. Look, if you're going to write a character that I know I'm not going to like, then at least make his characterization consistent.

I did raise an eyebrow at the implication that Jace was supposed to be teh hawtest guy eva, though. No offense to the actor, but his lank hair, gaunt face, and perpetually blank, unnerving stare made him come across as more "unconventionally attractive" at best, rather than the supposedly jaw-droppingly gorgeous guy I'm pretty sure he's meant to be. Plus, he just doesn't have any strong "love interest" characteristics whatsoever. I mean, what's so special about him that the Mary Sue picks him as her True Love over Simon, who isn't even seen as real competition? Is there no justice in this world? Honestly, Clary, you stupid bimbo, you've barely just met this guy and you pick him over your hot, snarky, nerd best friend with the sexy glasses? Oh wait, I forgot most normal people don't find that as attractive as I do...

I totally don't have a glasses fetish, I swear.
Oh, and can we talk about Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Valentine, because I just found everything about the movie's villain to be fucking hilarious. Maybe it's just because I recently finished re-watching The Tudors yet again, but I couldn't take him seriously at all, especially during that goofy Mortal Cup flashback scene. What the hell was up with that scene? It's like the filmmakers watched the rough cut of the film, realized they forgot to include an explanation for why Valentine wants the Cup, and then hastily shot the scene two weeks before the release date. The whole thing was just so corny and low-quality, and didn't even adequately explain Valentine's motivations or why he's, you know, just so darn villainous. And what the shit was going on with his hair??? Is it like the Shadowhunter version of a mullet, business in the front, party in the back? Because he's got this normal-looking short haircut, and then BAM, all of a sudden he's got a stupid braid ponytail awkwardly clipped to the back of his head. Are they meant to be souvenirs from all the Jedi padawans he's killed to earn his bad guy street cred? I guess the costuming department just felt like his hair didn't scream "I'm a badass urban fantasy villain" loud enough for them. If I had trouble taking JRM seriously because 1) all I could think of was Henry VIII and 2) the fact that he gives off this vibe of being 2 seconds away from either screaming at or making out with whoever he's sharing a scene with, then I can't imagine how anybody could take him seriously with that fucking hair.

Valentine did make up one half of a pretty damn awesome final boss battle, though. Sure, the lead-up to it had me scratching my head and the dialogue was cliche as hell, but the action was fast, the fighting was well-choreographed, and I thought it was pretty funny how he and Jace were constantly breaking the glass artifact cases to retrieve new weapons (maybe the comedy was unintentional, but whatever). It did piss me off that it had to end with a nonsensical plot hole that leaves a lot of threads dangling, though. So Clary shoves him through a magic portal--which is earlier implied to be a one-way trip--and somehow he manages to reach back through and grab onto her? And then she stabs the water-like surface of the portal with a magic wand-thingy not knowing what that will do, which then freezes the portal, then explodes outwards in a burst of snow. What the fuck??? What happened to Valentine? Is he dead, or did he escape somehow? Since I kinda-sorta know how the book ends and know that the movie ending is radically different, I was expecting there to be a post-credits scene showing Valentine to be alive, but there was nothing. There's a lot of loose ends, yet not enough for this to be the set up for a sequel, kind of like the ending of the Eragon movie. Which kind of makes me wonder if the studio predicted that this would be a flop halfway through production.

All in all, this movie certainly isn't good, but it's also not nearly as bad as I was expecting. If I was stuck at home doing chores and not much else was on TV to keep me entertained, I'd watch it. In fact, despite how many fans were pissed off by this adaptation, I can't help but expect the book to be even worse now. And, like the "emotional masochist" I am, I'm dreading reading it, yet I also cannot wait. Who knows, it might be a fun ride. 

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