Monday, August 26, 2013

Mortal Instruments: City of Bones [2013]

MPAA (PG-13)  ChiTribune (2 Stars) (1 Star)  AVClub (C)  Lost'nReviews (3.5/5)   WeLiveFilm (7.5/10)  Fr. Dennis (1 Star)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune (Roger Moore) review (Simon Abrams) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review
LostinReviews (Sarah Ksiazek) review
WeLiveFilm (Nuffin Muffin) review
DigitalJournal (Sarah Gopaul) review

About an hour into Mortal Instruments: City of Bones [2013] (directed by Harald Zwart, screenplay by Jessica Postigo based on the novel by Cassandra Clare [IMDb]) I realized something fairly important, IMHO, in appreciating this film -- I'm not a 12 year old girl ;-).  HOWEVER, in my line of work, I do know a fair number of 12 year olds, including a number who had been quite excited that their mother was going to take them to see it.  So ... since all three of the girls that I knew had gone to the film with one of their moms were altar servers, I decided to ask them what they thought of the film ;-).  And their opinions then inform a good part of this review.

Ah, to be a 12 year-old again ;-).  One thing to understand immediately here is that most 12 year olds don't go "to the show" often.  So from the get-go, it's a fairly big deal.  Then it was an even bigger deal for the three girls because the movie promised to be about MAGIC and OTHER MYSTERIOUS THINGS (again, folks put yourselves in the mindset of a 12 year old) AND THE HERO PROMISED TO BE A TEENAGE GIRL NOT MUCH OLDER THAN THEY ARE AND THEN SOMEONE WHO WAS KINDA LIKE THEM.  Like Bella in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga [1] [2], the heroine here, named Clary (played by Lily Collins) was really a "regular girl," not a basket case but not particularly "popular." So she was "relateable."  Comparing Clary to Bella, the three girls actually preferred Clary because they felt that Bella may have been too much of a depressed "drama queen" or basket-case especially at the beginning of that series.  And Merida from Brave [2012], didn't feel like an appropriate person to compare Clary with because, well, Merida was a "cartoon" and Clary was "real."  So the three girls really liked Clary the best. 

Then the three twelve-year-olds that I talked to liked the "drama" and even understood the "love triangle" in the story between Clary, her best friend Simon (played by Robert Sheehan) who they characterized as a really nice guy (and liked/felt sorry for) and then the 'dreamier' Jace (played by Jamie Campbell Bower) who comes into Clary's life after he notices that she seems to see the same "demons" as he does.  In the story, "mundanes" (humans) generally don't see "demons," but "Shadow Hunters" (half-angels, half-humans) do.  Jace was a  "Shadow Hunter" and discovers that Clary who previously could not see demons, apparently was seeing them now as clearly as he was.  Thus Jace recognizes that Clary must be a "Shadow Hunter" as well.

Those who remember Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga [1] [2] would probably be able to quickly catch the similarities between MI's Simon and Twilight's Jacob and MI's Jase and Twilight's Edward.  However, there prove to be substantial differences as well.  For one, Twilight's Jacob was a Werewolf, Simon was a Mundane (Human).  Another was that both Clary and Jace were "Shadow Hunters" (mixed race Angels/Humans) while Twilight's Bella was initially a very "mundane" human and Edward was, of course, a Vampire.

Indeed Cassandra Clare does brew a good stew that blends a lot of contemporary cultural motiffs into her tale: There are quite literally "Angels and Demons" present (a nod to Dan Brown).  There's a "chalice" that came into the story during "Crusader times." This cup/chalice wouldn't seem to be the Holy Grail (a Cup associated with Christ) as traditionally understood  but there obvious similarities.  Further, in something that could become a mild "spoiler alert," as per Dan Brown's Da Vinci code, there becomes something of an ambiguity as to what potential "Vessel" is actually important -- the "cup" that Clary's mom apparently hid in some way, or ... (I'll let you complete the sentence yourselves ;-).  Then the film, set in New York (instead of London) is set around an "Institute" that only non-mundanes (non-humans) can see, the "Institute" playing a role similar to Hogwarts Academy of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter [1] [2] series.  Then there's still a battle between Werewolves and Vampires (as per the Twilight Saga and perhaps even the Underworld franchise).  The dress of the "Shadow Hunters" appears to be a further and honestly IMHO not altogether age appropriate further tribute to the Underworld franchise as well as Sucker Punch [2011] (interestingly enough both Clary and Simon don't particularly like the dress of the punk-looking half-angel/half-mundane "Shadow Hunters" look with Clary asking one of the other Shadow Hunters why she was being asked to "dress like a hooker" to fit in with them (Good question actually, and a lot of Parents would probably want to know...).  Finally, in one of the more problematic plot twists in this, still the first episode, (SPOILER ALERT but IMHO IMPORTANT FOR PARENTS TO KNOW...), it turns out that Clary and Jace (half-angel/half human that they are ...) COULD BE BROTHER AND SISTER (shades of George Lucas' Star Wars saga...).

This last plot-twist (again SPOILER ALERT but IMHO IMPORTANT FOR PARENTS TO KNOW) was clearly "a bit too much" for the 12 year olds that I interviewed to handle.  Honestly, none of them really knew what to do with it.  They all found it "gross" and hoped that Jase / Clary really weren't "brother and sister" because "if they were, then there'd be no love triangle" as one of the 12 year olds put it ... hoping that the story would again follow more closely the tensions of the Twilight Saga.

Admitting then that there are elements (and even a lot of them) that clearly "worked" for the three 12 year olds that I interviewed for this review and that they really did enjoy the film, I DO FEEL IT'S MY DUTY HERE as a Catholic priest / reviewer to point out some significant problems that Parents ought to take into account when deciding whether or not to take their girls to THIS FILM:

(1) The dress of the "Shadow Hunters" really is punkish/slutty and so forth.

(2) Further, the "Shadow Hunters" as depicted in the film are covered almost head to toe with tattoos.  That in itself would cause concerns to many parents.  True, "body art" has become more and more popular in recent decades.  However, given the PERMANENCE of tattoos and THEN THE PERMANENCE OF BOTCHED TATTOOS, INAPPROPRIATE TATTOOS, STUPID TATTOOS, TATTOOS THAT "SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME ..." I honestly don't think it a particularly WISE idea to propagandize TWELVE YEAR OLDS about the "coolness" of tattoos when a 12 year old wouldn't have anything approaching a concept of PERMANENCE/ETERNITY, etc.  Tattoos are NOT "stickers" that "wash away..." TATTOOS STAY... TILL DEATH DO YOU PART.  (Note that I'm not totally against tattoos and have over the years defended late teenagers and young adults to their parents when the parents got upset over their young adult getting a tattoo. But tattoos are not to be taken lightly. THEY STAY).

(3) However, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Mortal Instruments' use of Tattoos are the depictions of Clary burning TATTOOS (in the film they are called "Runes") INTO HER OWN SKIN for "magical purposes."  IN MY PASTORAL WORK, I'VE HAD TO DEAL WITH TEENAGERS WITH "CUTTING" PROBLEMS.  And ANY PARENT who's had to deal with a young girl with "cutting problems" would probably become IMMEDIATELY CONCERNED WITH THIS ASPECT OF THE FILM.

(4) Yes, that two of the main characters Clary and Jace find out AFTER THEY HAD PASSIONATELY KISSED that they MAY be brother and sister is something that MANY/MOST TWEENS would not have ANY IDEA of what to do with.  And it's SIMPLY NOT RIGHT to THROW THIS AT TWEENS (and THEIR PARENTS) without WARNING.

So even though I honestly sympathize and HOPEFULLY EMPATHIZE with the three 12 year olds who went to see this film with one of their mothers, and the mother herself who was trying to be a good relateable mom as well, I really do think that the story ultimately betrayed its viewers.  And it's a shame because there was a lot of potential in the story.  And I also wish to say that I kinda feel sorry for the author of the original story because she really did come-up with a brew that could have been interesting.  Still I don't think it's useful to make a film that depicts arguably "good uses for 'cutting,'" or even that it offers a "tweenage exploration of incest."  Most like the 12 year olds I talked to for this review, would find that "gross" and needlessly confusing.

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