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Plugged In Rating
Content Caution
MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Drama, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Romance
Cast
Lily Collins as Clary; Jamie Campbell Bower as Jace; Lena Headey as Jocelyn/Mom; Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Valentine; Robert Sheehan as Simon; Kevin Zegers as Alec; Jared Harris as Hodge; Aidan Turner as Luke; Jemima West as Isabelle
Director
Harald Zwart (The Karate KidThe Pink Panther 2, Agent Cody Banks)
Distributor
Screen Gems
In Theaters
August 21, 2013
On Video
December 3, 2013
Reviewer
Bob Hoose
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Sometimes a single moment can change everything.

That's certainly the case for young Clary Fray. One minute she's just an average 18-year-old hanging with her best pal Simon at a local dance club. And then she sees something an average girl doesn't see. Right there on the club's dance floor she watches a weird, evil-looking man and a trio of heavily tattooed killers—with large glowing blades and magical serpentine bracelets—leap into a deadly struggle.

That's the honest truth. But she's was the only one who sees it. She screams. And everybody else in the building simply looks at her like she's lost her mind. Maybe she has! Or is she suddenly clairvoyant? Is she hallucinating?

The next morning things aren't much better. Clary wakes up with her hands covered in chalk dust and finds drawings plastered on every square inch of her room. They're drawings of this odd symbol that she can't seem to get out of her mind. And she can't seem to stop thinking about one of those killers she saw either.

He's a handsome rogue with golden hair and the look of an angel about him.

Later that day, she spots the golden guy again. And when she approaches him, she almost gets some answers. His name is Jace, and he starts talking about being an invisible Shadowhunter on a quest to kill demons that can possess both man and beast. Demons? Really?! Are you kidding me?

But before she can put it all together, Clary gets a call from her mom—who's panicked and under attack.

The young girl bravely runs home only to be pounced on by a Rottweiler-turned-hellhound that was left at the apartment to finish her off. Thankfully, Jace has followed right behind her and kills the tentacled beastie before Clary is killed right there in the middle of her supernatural nightmare.

Demon-hunters, beasts from hell, a kidnapped mom, dark powers, things dying left and right. What can all this mean?

Clary needs another moment.

Positive Elements

A Shadowhunter herself, Clary's mother has gone to great lengths to protect her daughter from the dark spiritual forces in play around them. She's worked hard to keep her kid normal. And although Clary thinks of herself as just such an average, normal, human girl (or a mundane, as the Shadowhunters call us) she puts every ounce of strength she has into trying to rescue her kidnapped mother.

Later, Clary finds out that she's not quite as mundane as she thought she was—she actually has a number of hidden abilities that begin to surface. But the girl still cares less about all that than she does about finding her mom and protecting Simon from harm. Jace, for his part, shrugs off the objections from his fellow Shadowhunters and decides to help Clary with her problems, risking the rising danger of the situation. (Of course, his choice is helped along quite a lot by the fact that he and Clary are beginning to fall in love.)

[Spoiler Warning] Jace isn't the only one riding to the rescue. A fraternity of werewolves risks life and limb to protect Clary, led by Luke, her father figure. Clary speaks of what a real, loving father looks like. And since we're on the subject of impromptu families, there's a strong sense of family among a tightly knit community of Shadowhunters.

Spiritual Content

Though this film is chock-full of demons and other creatures of the dark (such as werewolves and vampires), and its central intrigue features a magical "Mortal Cup" (one of three sacred "Mortal Instruments") that is said to transform people into half human/half angel warriors, it pretty much ignores God and/or God's supernatural power. When Clary asks Jace what he thinks about belief in God, he says bluntly, "I believe in myself. That's all I need." Indeed, all of the power coursing through this circuit board appears to be of the demonic or at least black magic kind. The closest the film gets to any biblical reference (and it's pretty twisted) is in its description of the Mortal Cup artifact:

That coveted cup is said to have come from an angel who was summoned by Crusaders centuries ago. The angel reportedly shed some of his blood into the cup. So if humans drink of that vessel they're transformed into Nephilim Shadowhunters—battlers who can see, hunt and kill the demons that slither in our midst. The powerful Shadowhunter Valentine is reported to have spent years experimenting with the cup—drinking from it, injecting others with its contents, and directly injecting himself with the blood of demons. Valentine even dribbles his own blood into the cup and tries to force Clary to drink it. He also creates a large pentagram through which are drawn powerful demons.

Magical symbols called runes are part of the Shadowhunter mythos. The hunters use a wand-like device to carve runes into their skin and gain the power to heal themselves from any malady or generate spell-like blasts to use in battle. It's said that Shadowhunters do not cling to any specific religion, but that all religions support their demon-eliminating efforts. Thus, every church, synagogue or any other place of worship maintains a secret vault of Shadowhunter weapons. Furthermore, a special cloaked or galmoured cathedral called an Institute sits unseen in the heart of a nearby city. Jace and Clary go there to get help from the Institute's master warlock.

A woman who reads palms and works with Tarot cards turns out to be a witch/demon who transforms into a rabid creature that sprouts tentacles from its neck. It's discovered that Clary's memories have been magically blocked by a warlock, and she goes through a dark ceremony to try to remove that block.

Sexual Content

Clary and Jace grow closer and closer until they finally embrace and kiss passionately. Then somebody suggests that the two may actually be siblings—which if true casts a pretty long, um, shadow across their heated lip-lock. But we're later told that the brother/sister claim was most likely a lie. Jace jokes about Clary wanting him to take his clothes off.

We encounter a vocally gay warlock and a Shadowhunter who holds secret desires for his best friend. Clary points out that those sorts of feelings are all quite OK—with the film suggesting that the stuffy elders in the supernatural community are unenlightened and far less accepting.

There are several club scenes that feature young people wearing formfitting and cleavage-baring costumes. Several of the male Shadowhunters, including Jace and Valentine, wear low-slung leather trousers and go shirtless. Female Shadowhunters have a tendency to wear goth-like black outfits that are skimpy at best. Clary dons a little lacy dress that a Shadowhunter friend suggests she wear. In turn she asks, "How is dressing like a hooker going to bring my mother back?" While assaulting a bound captive, a thug acts like an aroused dog rubbing up against the man's leg.

Violent Content

The master warlock Hodge makes it clear that all the monsters we've heard about in scary stories are indeed real. Consequently, battles with sharp-toothed demons, vampires, werewolves and the like abound in this pic. The Shadowhunters wield blades and glowing whip-like chains, stabbing and lashing foes with abandon. We see a few pools of blood on the floor or steps. And when Clary uses a special silver stake gun—which she thrusts in and pulls out of the chest of a savaged vampire—it drips with gore.

A man is impaled by a demon, with claws protruding through his chest. Werewolves tear into both the quick and the undead, savagely sawing at them. A small child looks up with a demonic glare just before getting attacked by a snarling werewolf that grabs her by the torso and drives her through a nearby window with a bone-crunching impact.

When demons are attacked, with everything from a blade to a gas explosion to a room-torching flamethrower, they tend to writhe and screech, sometimes sprouting tentacles or bubbling up in reconstituted globules. One female demon is viciously hit in the head with a shovel, snapping her neck and leaving her head dangling to the side.

Simon is suspended by chains near the top of a vaulted room. Clary and her mom are both manhandled by large and threatening thugs. The women are slammed violently into walls and tables and suspended by their throats. Jace clamps a large bear trap onto a baddie's arm—effectively anchoring him to a wall. A man is frozen in a solid, magical wall of ice and seemingly obliterated when that wall explodes.

The runes that the Shadowhunters carve into their flesh start out as open, glowing wounds that later heal into tattoos. And the initial process is uncomfortably reminiscent of ritualistic "cutting." Clary joins in a dark magic ceremony that's overseen by creepy corpse-like men who all sport empty eye sockets and sewn-together lips.

Crude or Profane Language

When someone shouts out, "Jesus!" Simon replies, "Nope, just me." God's name is abused three or four times. "H‑‑‑" is blurted out a half-dozen times; "d‑‑n" once.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Partyers at a dance club sport glasses of alcohol. Simon downs a drink that's been spiked with some kind of knock-out drug. When cornered, Clary's mom gulps a vial of some magical substance that puts her in a deep coma-like sleep.

Conclusion

For those who don't often wander into the realm of young adult fiction, this is a pic based on the popular Mortal Instruments novels—five of which are already published with a sixth due out in 2014. There are also prequel books available under the name The Infernal Devices and a sequel series called The Dark Artifices scheduled to launch in 2015.

So there's a truckload of author Cassandra Clare's stuff out there that Hollywood is now showing quite a bit of eagerness to exploit. (Film No. 2, City of Ashes, reportedly began production before film No. 1 premiered.) And it appears that creators of this supernatural romance/adventure series have spared no expense in the hopes of getting us all hooked. The production values are high. The youthful cast delivers lots of believable teen angst and steamy gazes. The creature-centric special effects crackle, roar and lunge with the big boys.

But there are some capital-P Problems here that overshadow all that. This is a story that's part Twilight, part Harry Potter, part Blade, and part fan-fiction cram fest. (Note that Cassandra Clare started her career writing online fan-fiction stories connected to Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings books.) It's stab-him-in-the-stomach violence. It's heavy-breathing sexual tension. It's the glorification of all things spiritually dark and occult, with creepy demon nastiness and drink-this-cup-of-blood contagion. It's all about making pentagrams and carve-a-rune-into-your-forearm teen magicking seem oh-so hip and appealing.

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