I and a couple of close friends have made a point of seeing all the silly tween movies based on young adult book series. We usually wait until the movie has been out a few weeks, then go to see them to make fun of them. We planned that in advance for this particular tween movie. We went after it had been open, and sat in an empty theater to get ready to laugh. A young mother with three young girls came and sat directly in front of us. We got up and moved, not wanting our comments to upset any fans. Apparently that was not good enough, because halfway through the mother got up and walked over to us to ask us to keep it down, as her girls were “really into it”. I wanted to say, “but we moved away from you so that we could talk, and we came weeks after it opened so we could talk,” but I didn’t, we just tried to keep it down.
In any case, here’s an unbiased review of this movie. No, wait, that’s not true. Here’s a completely biased review of this movie – operating on the bias that all tween movies are dumb and a little insulting. At least this one is better than the Twilight series (though not by much).
Clary Fray is a New York City teenager living with her mother. She begins seeing a strange symbol repeating in various places. This worries her mother and her mother’s friend (boyfriend?) Luke. While out at a nightclub with her nerdy friend Simon (who is totally into her, but she totally just likes him as a friend, and totally has no clue he’s into her), she sees a skinny blond dude kill another dude, but the killed dude doesn’t just die, he sort of disintegrates. No one else sees anything. Clary’s mother Jocelyn is abducted at her house by Pangborn and Samuel (two goons). She does manage to leave a message for Clary warning her about someone named ‘Valentine’ (who could that be?) then drinks a potion, which knocks her out, so that she can spend the rest of the movie in a coma (presumably to fit in with her Game of Thrones shooting schedule). The message clearly states to not come home, so of course, Clary immediately goes home to be attached by a demon-y sort of dog thing. Jace (the blond from the club) shows up to slay the dog and get Clary to fall for him. Jace tells Clary he’s a ShadowHunter (of course he is), which is a warrior who hunts demons. This is not nearly as cool as being a Rogue Demon Hunter (“What’s a Rogue Demon?”).
Jace tells Clary that her mother is a famous ShadowHunter, so together they visit Madame Dorothea, who happens to live downstairs and also happens to be a witch. Using a beautiful set of hand-painted tarot cards that were painted by Clary’s mother (hey, I wonder if that will come into play later?), she tells Clary and Jace that the two goons are looking for the Mortal Cup (it’s one of the Mortal Instruments that were given to the first shadowhunter by the angel Raziel). Simon pops back up at this point, able to see Jace now, but not thrilled about that, because after all; he can’t compete with Jace’s cheekbones because he wears glasses. They head to Luke's bookstore where the goons are interrogating him for the cup.
They narrowly escape this encounter and head to the Shadowhunter hideout, which is called the Institute. Clary and Simon get to meet Jace’s buddies, siblings Alec and Isabelle Lightwood as well as the Shadowhunter leader Hodge Starkweather.
Hodge believes Clary's mind holds the secret Mortal Cup and instructs Jace to take Clary to the Silent Brothers in the City of Bones.
The Brothers probe Clary's mind and uncover a connection to Magnus Bane, who is the High Warlock of Brooklyn. Clary, Jace, Simon, Alec and Isabelle meet Magnus in a nightclub, because in addition to being the high warlock, he’s also a big time club-kid who is not wearing pants. He reveals that Jocelyn had him block the Shadowhunter world from Clary's mind.
At this point, Simon is kidnapped by vampires (seriously Simon? Come on!) and taken to their lair in a nearby hotel (hotel, not cave or underground tunnel), the group go to rescue him but are outnumbered. Werewolves intervene and save them, because they have a truce with the Shadowhunters. Wow, this is really getting complicated.
Back at the Institute, Clary shares romantic evening with Jace in their mystical greenhouse, ending in a kiss. Simon takes this inopportune time to finally tell her the truth about how he feels. Clary downplays how she feels about Jace to pacify Simon, which of course pisses off Jace. Bam! Love triangle!
Clary, while moping, realizes the Mortal Cup is hidden inside a tarot card painted by her mother; because her mother had the awesome power to hide 3D things in a 2D setting. That would be so convenient! The group returns to Madame Dorothea's apartment to retrieve it. Unfortunately, she has been replaced by a demon sent to steal the Cup. Alec gets wounded and Clary retrieves the Mortal Cup.
The group returns to the Institute (there is so much traveling in this movie!) and Clary hands over the Mortal Cup to Hodge. He betrays them (twist!) by summoning Valentine Morgenstern (Morgenstern? And where was he? He just saunters out of a portal!) and giving him the cup. Valentine reveals he is Clary's father (another twist! Except that by this point you totally figured that out already) and wants her to join him.
She escapes through a portal that takes her to Luke's bookstore. Luke, a werewolf who was trying to project Clary and her mother (twist number 3!), confirms that Valentine is her father and says Clary had a brother called Jonathan (twist number 4!). He and his werewolf pack return to the Institute with Clary to fight Valentine, who has summoned an army of demons through a portal he created. Simon and Isabelle close the portal with help from a repentant Hodge, who sacrifices himself. Meanwhile, Magnus Bane (in a robe, but with pants this time) arrives to heal Alec, and Clary and Jace fight Valentine.
Valentine picks up on their feelings for each other, and in a truly dick move, tells Jace that he’s the long missing Jonathan, and therefore Clary’s brother. That’s obviously not true, but they believe it. Valentine pushes this a little more to get them to join him, but they refuse. Clary pushes him through a portal which Jace destroys. Jocelyn is rescued but remains in a coma at the hospital, where Luke watches over her. Clary gives Simon hope to find love elsewhere, but not with her and heads back home to use her new-found powers to repair the apartment (when did she get cleaning powers?), but then Jace appears, confessing he needs her and wants her to return to the Institute. Realizing she belongs in the Shadowhunter world, she goes with him. Oh, and I think they still think that they're siblings.
This complicated mess is directed by Dutch director Harald Zwart. He did the Karate Kid remake (which I still maintain should have been called the Kung Fu kid), and Agent Cody Banks, so he’s good at the tween stuff. The cast is capable, and in terms of the kids, more pretty than talented, but that’s fine for this type of flick.
- Lily Collins stars as Clary, and while it’s cool to have a female protagonist, she starts a bit useless. More useful than Bella, but less useful than Katniss. Hopefully she gets more badass as the stories progress. Collins was in the Mirror Mirror from last year, ironic, considering that Kristen Stewart played the other version of Snow White from last year. She’s just fine, and really uses her giant eyes to her advantage in this movie, being generally surprised and shocked most of the time.
- Jamie Campbell Bower – who was in Twilight as one of the Volturi (the little blond one) – places Jace. He’s far too model-pretty and delicate to be taken seriously as any kind of warrior, but the tween girls really seem to be into frail, feminine looking dudes. I can’t figure that out, but, hey, they’re still young.
- Kevin Zegers, who has been on Gossip Girl and played “Josh” in four different Air Bud movies (four!), plays Alec Lightwood. He’s not too bad, I guess all those Air Bud movies can help build your skill. There was a really interesting character bit where Clary realizes that Alec is in love with Jace and calls him out on it – which I found impressive for a tween story, but that was never brought back into play. Maybe it’s developed more in the book?
- Jemima West plays Isabelle Lightwood, and she’s supposed to be the badass shadowhunter who will teach Clary how to be badass. Again, she’s a little delicate for all that, but she does a decent job.
- Robert Sheehan plays Simon, who actually does have cheekbones to rival Jace’s, but you know, he’s wearing glasses, so Clary can’t take him seriously as a love interest. He gets to be the comic relief for most of the movie, and does a decent job. The scene where the vampires kidnap, torture, and string him up as a trap for the others was a bit intense for what is essentially a kids’ movie.
- Godfrey Gao plays the pantless Magnus Bane. He was very entertaining, and I’m tempted to read the book to learn a little more about his character. He basically got all the exposition, but kept it interesting.
- Lena Headey plays Jocelyn, and adding this to Game of Thrones, and Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Dredd – she’s starting to develop a consistent questionable mother trademark. She’s great, and interesting, so it’s a bit of bummer that she spends most of this movie in a coma.
- Aidan Turner plays Luke. You can sort out the irony on your own of him playing the Vampire on the UK Being Human with his being the werewolf in this movie. In case you’re thinking he looks familiar but you’ve never watched the UK Being Human – it’s because he’s currently one of the dwarves in the Hobbit movies, Kili.
- The omnipresent French-Canadian Kevin Durand plays yet another Sci-Fi heavy as one of the two goons. He played the goon heavy in I Am Number Four as well. The other goon is played by equally omnipresent French-Canadian Robert Mallait, who you probably remember as the big dude from Sherlock Holmes, or the big dude in 300, or the big dude in – you get the idea.
- CCH Pounder – who will always be my Amanda Waller, despite Pam Grier also playing her – plays the downstairs witch, Dorothea. She didn’t have much to do in this, but the scenes where she is possessed by a demon were entertaining.
- Jared Harris (the son of the late Richard Harris - who sang McArthur Park and was Dumbledore #1) plays Hodge. He was recently the screen version of Moriarty in the RDJ Sherlock version. I always remember him as the creepy dude from Resident Evil 2, so I knew not to trust him in this.
- The best part, and I mean the absolute best part of this nonsense is Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Valentine. He’s crazy, and has been for a long time, and I feel like the director on this just let him go. He chews up every bit of the scenery in this movie, completely reveling in his terrible hair extensions and questionable dialogue. He goes way too big, and it’s very entertaining. You should be watching his new Dracula show on NBC.
Honestly, I had a really good time watching this, not because it’s good, but because it was so terrible, and easy to make fun of – and for the most part, it seemed to embrace its own level of campy-ness. So, it’s awful, but I loved it – that makes sense, right? The good news (good news?) is that the budget for this movie was $60 million, and it made $76 million, so hooray, you’ll be treated to The Mortal Instruments: City of Ashes next year. It’s currently in pre-production, with the majority of the cast returning. Hopefully Clary has been putting in the work at the Institute, and will return as a super-powered ShadowHunter. Check it out – it’s worth the giggles it will give you, but please don’t pay for it. It’s better than Twilight, but not as good as the Hunger Games or Percy Jackson. Oh, and I have started reading the book, so I'll let you know how that goes.
6 out of 10: Gained points for the insanity that is Jonathan Rhys Meyers and his leather pants. Lost points for me not believing any of the main cast are athletic enough to be warriors of any kind. Gained points for CCH Pounder. Lost points for the cheesy romance scene in the greenhouse. Lost points for having too much plot, if this is what they included, what did they leave out that was in the book?
Bonus Video 1: The Tudors, Rhys Meyers barely contained as Henry the VIII.
Bonus Video 2: Bend it Like Beckham – a better movie for young women, but still starring Rhys Meyers.
Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews