I was very pleasantly surprised by The Mortal Instruments – as far as book adaptations go, it is in the upper echelon.
Admittedly, neither I nor my two friends could remember the book all that well (it’s been over three years since I read it), but the changes were generally not so major as to detract from our enjoyment (by comparison, my memory was also fuzzy on Percy Jackson Sea of Monsters, but I recalled enough to know they seriously botched it). And unlike the later books in the series, an awful lot happens in this one; consequently the movie is really long, but chock full of content. It doesn’t really start dragging until the very end, at which point the entire theater seemed to be shifting restlessly waiting for it to end.
The cast does a great job in this movie – none of them phoned it in. The standouts for me were Robert Sheehan and Jemima West as Simon and Isabelle, respectively. Sheehan’s comedic timing is impeccable, and most of the laughs came from him (Jace also has a few good one-liners, but they’re not delivered as well). West, meanwhile, captures Izzy perfectly – a sexy badass with a soft side she occasionally reveals. When she’s kicking vampire butt at the Hotel Dumort, the phrase “What a woman!” may have slipped out of me. Lily Collins does a good job as Clary, making her likable and tough. The only weak link in the cast is Jamie Campbell-Bower as Jace – his acting is really sub-par, and a lot of people walking out of the theater said they were now Team Simon despite loving Jace in the books. But his bad acting does not detract too badly from the movie.
The effects in the movie are very good – surprisingly good, considering how many there are and how small a budget the moviemakers were working with. The runes and steles looked great, as did the demons. And sure, the Institute is veeery reminiscent of Hogwarts… but then, considering how much the books borrowed from HP, that was kind of appropriate. Evidently, the budget ran out before they could make Simon a rat, but that means a lot more shots of a shirtless Robbie Sheehan, so no one complained.
The costuming was also really good – an awful lot of black leather and skin. It falls into the same category as Buffy – maybe not the most practical choice, but a believable one for a bunch of teenagers. This movie does not shy away from its own camp, and is the better for it. Plus, this means plenty of eye candy for guys and girls alike.
The bad news is that the romance is TERRIBLE. The greenhouse scene was the least sexy screen kiss I’ve seen in years – it looked like they’re were eating each other’s face, and not even the cheesy sprinklers going off could save it. And the final scene between Jace and Clary is absolutely cringe-worthy. Jace begins, “I told you I’d never met an angel…” and the entire theater started muttering, praying the followup wouldn’t be the obvious uber-cheesy one. But sure enough, “…now I have,” and the audience let out a collective groan. Then follows more prattle about needing each other that’s straight out of Nicholas Sparks. Oy vey.
I know the book readers are all curious about The Twist, and it is in there… in a fashion. Basically, for the characters it goes off as it should, but the audience is privy to the truth about it. Perhaps the filmmakers were worried about audience response to incest? Then again, I doubt many people will see this movie who haven’t read the books, so it won’t matter much.
The ending battle is quite spectacular (as are most of the action sequences), even though there’s an awful lot of mumbo-jumbo about portals that certainly wasn’t in the book. Fans of Cassandra Clare’s will almost certainly enjoy the movie – while not a slavish interpretation, it’s quite faithful. Even things like Alec’s subplot is included! I hope enough people outside the fanbase discover it to warrant a sequel, since this was a very promising start to a franchise. I’d give it a 9/10.
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