HomeAll postsThe Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)

A review by Nalini Haynes

I’ve never read the books by Cassandra Clare so I came to the City of Bones movie as a newbie, completely ignorant of all the lore.

Clary (Lily Collins), a teenage girl, sneaks out to go to a night club where she sees someone killed. No-one else sees anything out of the ordinary. Already haunted by a strange symbol, Clary’s dreams trouble her, then she wakes to find her room covered in the symbol she’s drawn, over and over.

Clary freaks out and seeks advice from her best friend, Simon (Robert Sheehan from Misfits; a haircut and some glasses and he’s even better looking). While pouring out her troubles to Simon, Clary sees a stranger in the window, the young killer from the nightclub. Realising Simon can’t see the killer, Clary rushes outside, fleeing what she fears is insanity.

The killer meets Clary in an alleyway. His name is Jace and he’s a Shadowhunter.

Clary’s mum, Jocelyn (Lena Headey of Game of Thrones and the Sarah Conner Chronicles) phones, telling Clary not to come home. Ever. Jocelyn says Clary is to get help from Luke (Aidan Turner from Being Human and The Hobbit).

Rushing home, Clary finds the flat destroyed and a monster awaiting her return.

It gets complicated.

All the shiny actors

Aidan Turner, a vampire in Being Human, is now a werewolf. The vampires and the werewolves don’t — exactly — get along with each other. Queue epic battle, and this battle wasn’t even the climax.

Lots of familiar faces feature in this movie but they’re not the usual Hollywood actors, which is a refreshing change.

Clary and Jace are attracted to one another but there’s another boy, Alec, who likes Jace. Another boy likes Alec. Simon is in love with Clary but she thinks of him as a brother. Did I mention it gets complicated?

Soapie or fantasty drama?

While this might sound like a [shudder] soapie, City of Bones pulls this off well, entwining the romance with the unveiling of the supernatural underworld, threats and action sequences. Although the sets are green screen and occasionally it’s obvious (even for vision impaired me), City of Bones is really engaging. The sets, props and costumes (the latter two are fabulous) feature as support for sumptuous world-building, good acting, engaging characters and an epic fantasy story.

Bechdel Test

City of Bones also passes the Bechdel Test, a simple gender test where 2 female characters talk without a male present about anything other than the men. Surprisingly few movies pass this simple test. There is girl-conflict over the men — over Jace, anyway — with Isabelle, Alec’s sister, warning Clarey off Jace. At first this seemed like a cliche cat-fight but Isabelle is looking out for her brother and the Shadowhunter order.


Extras include behind the scenes and Cassandra Clare talking about her novels and the process of transforming them into a movie.

The verdict

I love the City of Bones movie so now I’m planning to read the book. I’m also looking forward to the sequel.

Elizabeth Manthos also reviewed this movie.

Critics hated it and audiences thought it was ok on Rotten Tomatoes. I wonder… did critics hate it because City of Bones is a YA fantasy book with a female protagonist?

Movie details

Director: Harald Zwart
Writers: Jessica Postigo (screenplay), Cassandra Clare (novel)
Stars: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan, Lena Headey, Aidan Turner
Watch this if you liked: Buffy, Vampire Diaries season 1, Golden Compass
Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5 stars

Mortal Instruments City of Bones poster

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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