Thanks to the recent premiere of Shadowhunters, fans of Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series were once again given the chance to see a favorite novel come to life, and to ask ourselves what exactly it is that we want from such an attempt.
The story of Clary Fray and her demon slaying companions was previously brought to the screen in the 2013 The Mortal Instruments movie. That previous iteration, which starred Lily Collins as Clary, was met with some frustration by fans, some of who felt it deviated too strongly from the characters and story found on the page.
Many anticipated Shadowhunters as an opportunity to finally get the story right, to fully manifest the sprawling, vibrant world of the books. A television series could allow for the writers to take their time with the material and to fully develop the characters. Nothing would have to be cut. Right?
Now, you may have been rewarded for your patience and completely enjoyed this new interpretation of the story. Since its release, Shadowhunters has garnered its share of supporters — for example, a Hypable writer has written a very positive review.
I’m not here to bash the show, but it inspired me to re-examine the movie. It’s funny how things look a little different the second time around, and I think The Mortal Instruments movie deserves a second look.
There are admittedly some questionable choices where the film is concerned. CoughValentine’sponytailCough. Maybe you didn’t like the casting for Jace. Maybe you were just disappointed that Alex Pettyfer was considered too old for the part. Overall, the film delivers.
From the well-developed action sequences to authentic character relationships and wholly graceful visuals, The Mortal Instruments is a great watch.
First, the action is compelling. Director Haward Zwart punctuates the danger with satisfying flips, round house kicks, and some good old fashioned ass-kicking. In the first scuffle that really grabs your attention, Jocelyn Fray fights for her life with a luminous Katana style sword, as her home is destroyed around her.
The film follows this up with some honestly ninja-level worthy moves from team Teen Shadowhunter in the vampire den, and a heroic display from Simon and Jace as they take down Demon Dorothea in the remains of Clary’s home. In each of these scenes, the danger is made imminent and palpable. The characters move with tangible urgency, fear, and bravery.
The movie reaches its climax as demons invade the institute, and Jace faces off in a sprawling sword fight against the man claiming to be his father, a battle whose movements feel as natural as they look athletic.
Also, Isabelle uses a flamethrower. A Flamethrower.
What particularly makes this film, for me, is the cast. What was most notably lacking from the first episodes of Shadowhunters was the chemistry between Clary and… well …anyone. Here, Collins surpasses Katherine McNamara, her television counterpart. The connection she portrays with Simon is instantly loving and trusting, while avoiding being seen as patronizing. McNamara’s Clary seems to treat her “best friend” as a sort of pet, with a somewhat detached affection, rarely even looking directly at her costar. (Sorry. I’ll stop.) Collins is perfectly emotive in communicating the panic and terror she feels at losing Simon.
Additionally, the film’s Clary conveys true anguish at losing her mother and watching her understanding of reality quickly crumble. She is brave, but not mindlessly confident. Romantic, but without forgetting the gravity of the situation.
The Mortal Instruments movie racks up a couple more points for the inclusion of Robert Sheehan in the role of Simon. You might recognize him as Nathan from the series Misfits. Sheehan’s performance is, at once, vulnerable, desperate, protective, and sarcastic, hitting all the right notes. I mean, look at that face.
Sheehan and the rest of the supporting cast, particularly Lena Hedley (Jocelyn Fray), Kevin Zegers (Alec Lightwood), Jemina West (Isabelle Lightwood), CCH Pounder (Dorothea), and Jared Harris (Hodge), all deliver determined, thoughtful performances. Their work, however understated, brings a degree of realism to the characters, amidst the wild and often chaotic storyline.
What really won me over, however, was the stunning production and visuals. This movie delivers what I really wanted from a live action adaptation of Clare’s work: to see the magic and excitement brought to life. The commitment to the source material pays off as we see the classic gothic turrets of the Institute rise from the ruins of a rundown church. We see it in the slice of incandescent blades and the burn of the runes the characters carve into their skin. We see it in hundreds of vampires that swarm the dilapidated roof of an abandoned hotel, in a scene that is both eye catching and heart stopping.
The Mortal Instruments manages to find inventive and unique ways to tell the story, while staying true to the tone set by the books. From creative uses of the portal and a rather inspired ritual for summoning demons via a pentagram of deadly weapons, to those demons arriving as thrashing golems of crows and darkness, this movie surprises you, in a good way.
Movie adaptations of novels are never what we want them to be. Even TV shows can never encompass everything that a novel is. A movie will never perfectly incarnate what our imaginations crafted, but if you want to see Simon crack some jokes, Clary do some magic, half-angel-ninjas kick some ass, and Isabelle Lightwood wield a flame thrower, The Mortal Instruments is one hell of a ride.