Starring: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan, Lena Headey, Aiden Turner, Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Written by: Jessica Postigo (screenplay), book by Cassandra Clare
Directed by: Harald Zwart
The latest in Hollywood’s attempts to cash in on the post Twilight teen hysteria, City of Bones tells the story of Clary, a young woman in modern New York who wakes up one morning to find that she can see things no-one else can, most of which are horrifying or intriguingly pretty. I have to be honest. I’ve never read the books upon which the film is based, the trailer didn’t thrill me, and I wouldn’t have bothered going to see it if a friend and I had had anything better to do. I am apparently not alone in this; the sequel, which was due to start production this month, has been pushed back more or less indefinitely in the wake of a lacklustre opening weekend (as of September 19th, it has internationally pulled in around $75,000,000, although it had a marketing budget alone of $60,000,000; with that sort of money, it’s a wonder any film makes a profit these days, but I digress). Cassandra Clare herself has gone on record as saying a delay in filming would probably be a good thing, having seen a draft of the script.
Having seen the film, it is easy to understand why the box office is disappointing, as there is little truly positive to say about it. The basic concept is one with potential – and in some respects, one I would like to see more of, albeit done with greater skill and quality – but is fairly uninspired. Cassandra Clare got her publishing contract in the wake of some popular and influential fanfiction stories for Harry Potter, so you might be forgiven for thinking that this was going to be something in the same vein. In reality, it is a fairly typical urban fantasy kitchen sink (vampires and werewolves and demons, oh my), with a liberal sprinkling of Twilight-esque romance. And leather. Lots of leather.
The early part of the film is quite interesting. We are slowly introduced to Clary – and you may well wonder about the closeness of that name to Cassandra Clare – and her artistic mother, and more importantly, Clary’s tendency to draw strange symbols apparently without realising it. Again, it’s not terribly revolutionary stuff, but it’s handled reasonably well, and there’s a nice chemistry between Collins and Sheehan as her best (and apparently only) friend Simon. Then, Clary sees a mysterious stranger in a mysterious club, and the plot really kicks in. This is a bad thing.
In large part, this is because Campbell Bower arrives on screen, playing the semi-angelic demon hunter Jace, and quite frankly it’s the worst performance I’ve seen in a very long time. You might think after seeing several of the Twilight films, I’d be a little more tolerant of – or at least resigned to – wooden performances, but Bower manages to deliver more such acting in one film than Pattinson, Stewart and Lautner packed into three films (I haven’t seen either part of Eclipse). I suppose from one perspective, that’s something to admire, but I can’t bring myself to be that generous. He has one facial expression and talks solely in monotone, whether he’s being commanding, sarcastic, or trying to display unbearable passion and sadness. Presumably someone somewhere decided his cheekbones made up for everything else, but that didn’t do much for me. It doesn’t help that the vast majority of his dialogue is truly awful; his delivery makes it worse, but it wouldn’t sound good coming from the mouth of the finest Shakespearian actor.
None of the cast really set the screen alight in fact, although in another similarity with the Twilight franchise, the side characters are far more entertaining than the main protagonists. Sheehan in particular has fun with a role that essentially involves pointing out how ridiculous everything is. Collins is probably the best value, but Clary isn’t a terribly interesting character as yet – or rather, there’s lots of potentially interesting stuff about her, but she seems to have been thrown into the character trope box and saddled with everything that stuck, leaving her a mesh of personality aspects rather than an actual character.
You can make that criticism about most of the film, to be honest; there’s an awful lot of stuff happening, but not much of it actually seems terribly important, not least because the already bland plot (a typical fantasy macguffin hunt) is sidelined a lot of the time in favour of the romantic angle, which involves Campbell Bower and therefore has all the passion of a haddock. The only interesting thing about it – and it must be said, this is a pretty unusual thing – is an eleventh hour twist which adds an intriguingly illicit edge to proceedings.
Elsewhere…well, the action scenes are entertaining enough, and some of the background concepts are fun – I’m particularly fond of JS Bach being a demon hunter. And kudos for being the first blockbuster this year that I can immediately think of to acknowledge the existence of gay characters. But essentially, this is a pretty generic film done without flair.