A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is based on Cassandra Clare's best-selling urban fantasy series about warriors, demons, vampires, and werewolves and is the first film in a proposed action-fantasy franchise. Expect a lot of violent confrontations in the movie -- mostly using special blades and swords -- including scenes of torture and even death. Language is mild ("damn," "what the hell," etc.), and romance is limited to longing looks, a big kiss, and some sexy outfits. Like the book it's based on, the movie features a diverse cast and a brave female protagonist.
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What's the story?
Based on Cassandra Clare's fantasy series, THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES centers on Clary Fray (Lily Collins), a New York City teen on the eve of her 16th birthday who can't stop envisioning or drawing a mysterious symbol. On a regular night out with her best friend, Simon (Robert Sheehan), Clary sees a mysterious trio seemingly kill a man. During a second encounter with a good-looking stranger named Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), Clary gets a frantic call from her mother (Lena Headey). After racing home, Clary discovers not only that her mother has been abducted, but that the symbol Clary kept seeing is a rune representative of her mom's former life as Shadowhunter, an ancient group of warriors that protects humanity from demons. As Clary delves into a supernatural world full of demons, werewolves, and vampires, she starts to fall for Jace while taking her place as a fellow Shadowhunter.
Is it any good?
Aside from some humorous zingers and visually appealing set pieces, the first movie based on Clare's book franchise doesn't live up to the expectations of her large fandom. Clare's phenomenally popular novels are jam-packed with character development, plot twists, and thorough supernatural world building. The main problem with the film is that while all of the subplots and secondary characters -- not to mention an intricate cosmology about angels, demons, and other creatures of the light (or darkness) -- make complete sense in a 500-page novel, director Harald Zwart and screenwriter Jessica Postigo have trimmed altogether too much in some ways and not enough in others, creating a movie so convoluted and unresolved that it doesn't work as a stand-alone film.
Lovers of the series will appreciate that secondary characters like Simon and Isabelle (Jemima West) were cast perfectly; Sheehan is brilliant as Clary's nerdy, funny, devoted, and smitten best friend, Simon, while West is exactly the gorgeous, kick-butt warrior Clare describes. And High Warlock of Brooklyn Magnus Bane (model-actor Godfrey Gao) is every bit as magnetic as in the series. But overall, the leads leave much to be desired, and their love story -- so epic in the books -- seems laughably cliche in this adaptation. There's already a second film planned, so the filmmakers will need to drastically streamline the story and give more screen time to supporting players for it to work.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about page-to-screen adaptations. How does The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones compare to the book? What are the main differences? What scenes from the book did you miss?
There's a theme that "all the stories are true" -- except for zombies. Which supernatural stories or creatures do you wish actually existed?
- In theaters: August 21, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: December 3, 2013
- Cast: Jamie Campbell Bower, Kevin Zegers, Lily Collins
- Director: Harald Zwart
- Studio: Screen Gems
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Book Characters, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense sequences of fantasy violence and action, and some suggestive content
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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