Mortal Improvements

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This week I got hold of Mortal Instruments: City of Bones from  I had enjoyed the first of Cassandra Clare’s novels but lost my taste after the second novel in the series.

Harald Zwart’s movie adaptation turned out to be a real treat.  The concept, as far as contemporary urban fantasy goes, is a good one that promises lots of action and plenty of tormented characters to charge the drama.  Jessica Postigo’s screenplay kept the heart of the novel with admirable skill, neatly trimming through fluff and correcting out Clare’s more unbelievable bits (which have to do with what good teenage kids are sneaking around doing more than what a werewolf looks like or how vampire motorcycles can fly) of the novel.

City of Bonesi was not Shakespeare as a novel and it will never be considered great art in terms of film, but it is lively.  Athletic young people wear various degrees of outlandish outfits with aplomb.  Jean Frenette, the fight and stunt choreographer puts together a nice blend of simplicity and flair in action, a harder trick than it may seem.  The list of stunt performers is nearly longer than the cast for good reason.  This movie has action and plenty of it.

There are three pivotal performances in this film, and they all come from overseas.  Jamie Campbell Bower plays Jace, the sarcastic love interest in the film.  The character of Jace is eighty percent of why I cannot continue to read the book series, since his dialogue is ninety five percent obnoxiousness and sarcasm to the point that I can’t see why anyone speaks to him much less cares about what happens to him when matters of life and death are at hand.  But Bower’s portrayal of the character delivers a subtle self-denigration with every bitter reply, and that changes the feel of the character entirely, because as horrible as he might sound to others, it is clear that Jace’s own internal conflicts are far worse.  In short, Bower makes Jace sympathetic instead of smack-worthy, and and that is no small feat.

Irish actor Robert Sheehan of Misfits fame plays Simon, our heroine’s don in distress.  He also does a fair bit of non-verbal character revision by making his character seem much less of a helpless patsy and more of a strong young man in way over his head.  He balances this off of Lily Collins protagonist, Clary, who mostly reacts until the last quarter of the movie when she does come into her own, but Clary is no Bella Swan.  When she reacts she makes things happen and it is great to see.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers is another Irish actor who comes through with a lot of menace and surprising physicality for a skinny footballer type in his role as Valentine, the arch bad guy.  I felt that the characters of Alec and Isabelle got Weasleyed (to coin a phrase based on the horrible cutting of the red-headed menaces in the Harry Potter movies) into much smaller parts than their characters deserved.  I cared much more about the earnest brother and sister than Jace going through the book.

That aside, the movie is quite fun.  The visual effects department dug deep and brought out a lot of the promise in Cassandra Clare’s film.  The monsters even managed to seem unnerving at times, and I have seen a lot of horror movies.  Aidan Turner’s portrayal of Luke mixed with decent transformation effects pulls off the werewolf thing as well as Teen Wolf or other modern competitors.

I highly recommend the film.  It is enough to make me consider giving the books another try.

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