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The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones – Sexy goths in role-reversal teen rune-romp

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Not as frou-frou as you may think

Not as frou-frou as you may think

Buffy may have started the trend for the world being saved by the unassuming, weak American teenager, but The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones  heralds a new era in sword and sorcery. In fact, what we have here is an unrestrained assault on the senses courtesy of Harald Zwart’s high-energy fantasy.

What may seem like a movie designed for screaming tweenagers has a lot more to say for itself if viewers are willing to suspend their disbelief and roll with the numerous visual punches. For the uninitiated, City of Bones is the first film in a trilogy based on books written by Cassandra Clare focussing on demon killers – known as shadowhunters – in a classic good-versus-evil story in New York’s underbelly.

If, like me, you’re one of the few who have not read the fantasy, don’t worry as it isn’t essential, you’ll still be able to keep up. I’ll summarise as follows: Possibly teenage (age is immaterial to the plot in City of Bones)Clary (Lily Collins) lives with artist mother Isobel (Lena Headey, possibly overpaid and certainly underused) in a small Brooklyn apartment. Clary’s best friend Simon (Robert Sheehan) adores her, so when Clary keeps drawing a strange runic figure in her sleep he tags along to a goth-club that uses the symbol on its entrance sign. Inside they discover Jace (Jamie Campbell-Bower) murdering someone/thing with a glowing white sword. Jace introduces them to a hidden world of  angels, demons anddownworlders.

City of Bones is more than just the triumvirate of mysterious hooded blond, bespectacled weakling and feisty ebony-browed heroine, firstly as Zwart himself wanted to cast every role “…no matter how small,”with fabulous actors. This strategy employs ace support from Jared Harris (good to know where Lane Pryce went after he topped himself), Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and excellent complete unknown Jemima West. Only in Hollywood can Aidan Turner – age 30 – play Lily Collins’ – age 24 – older werewolf stepfather – age ain’t nothin’ but a number in the City of Bones.

Next, the suspension of disbelief imperative to fantasy films of this nature is brilliantly achieved by amazing special effects. Providing a nice homage to Terminator 2, it’s properly scary in parts, especially when various demonic creatures are chasing our game heroine.

What puts City of Bones at an advantage is the quality of the film-making, from score, CGI and visual thrills, the editing really is excellent. Thus the film is violently action-packed enough to keep the girls gasping at Jace and their boyfriends well entertained.

Finally, City of Bones nicely turns the age-old conceit of rescuing the damsel in distress completely on its head. It is Clary who is found to possess otherworldly powers, strength and a cool head when variousmale members of the cast find themselves kidnapped. In fact, at the UK press conference (more coming to liveforfilms.com later), Collins revealed that it was this gender role-reversal that prompted her take the role.

It isn’t a perfect picture. The dialogue in City of Bones is clunky at times, with some of the most saccharine exchanges I have seen since Bella and Edward rolled around in a cornfield. But script aside, this is a leap forward in teenage noir. Sheehan is wonderful, playing his jokes with great timing and Collins is a winning lead, but City of Bones is essentially an ensemble outing and Zwart’s big-screen masterpiece.

Delivering thrills and spills, the right amount of action, violence and tender silliness, it recalls the best event cinema.  A very well-made start to a new fantasy franchise.

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