John Tells Liz What Happened In “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones”

Dear Frank,

John Ross is back! John Ross is back! Having survived “50 Shades of Grey” and “The Host,” he’s once again about to reveal the secrets of lady-focused drama. Is it because he loves the act of epistolary recapping? Or because this blog gives him a reason to do things like watch movies based on young adult fiction? That is between John Ross and his maker. All I know is, we benefit.


Dear Liz,

The-Mortal-Instruments-City-of-Bones-Poster-535x792My expectations were below gutter level when I went to see The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. At the time, it was at 13% on Rotten Tomatoes and based on my previous experience with a young adult novel franchise turned movie — The Host — I made sure to sit near the back just in case. But then halfway through the movie, when I did in fact have to go to the bathroom, I found myself holding it because I didn’t want to miss anything. Whether it was intentional or not — I still can’t tell — this movie is fun to watch!

Now I know the point of this is to fill you in on everything that happens in the movie but honestly I couldn’t tell you. I had no idea what was going on half the time. Like other teen novel adaptations, you get the sense that the filmmakers had to leave in everything from the book or face the wrath of its fans. (Too bad the World War Z novel wasn’t popular with teenage girls.) But that’s what I love about these young adult novel adaptations: Were it not for this fear of pleasing the fans, no one in their right mind would make a movie as batshit insane as this one.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones covers all kinds of familiar tropes from Twilight to Harry Potter to Star Wars, so it’s no surprise that critics are dismissing it as being too derivative, but I’m all for ripping off Twilight if the resulting rip-off is a vast improvement. Unlike the Twilight sequels, this movie has great cinematography and music, well-staged action, seamless digital effects, and a far more endearing lead character. It’s also way sexier than those movies ever hoped to be. So on that note, let’s get into the sexy plot… and if I’m wrong about many of these plot points, that’s because I truly don’t know what was going on.

Clary Fray (Lily Collins) lives in New York with her mother who’s a painter and her mother’s live-in boyfriend, Luke. She’s a typical urban teenager — she chats on the phone, hangs out at coffee shops, and goes to her dorky friends’ poetry readings. Accompanying her is Simon, her best guy friend that she’s known since she was a kid who is secretly pining for her (the Jose Rodriguez character). After the poetry reading, Clary wants to go to a goth club because… because she’s just cool like that, I guess.

At the club, Clary is eyeing this hunky blonde guy across the room when suddenly he whips out a sword and stabs this other dude. She’s freaking out about it but Simon and the other club patrons didn’t see anything, at which point she realizes that she’s like that Sixth Sense kid but for hunky, stabby people instead of dead people.


The next day, she’s at a coffee shop with Simon when she sees the hunky, stabby guy once again, watching her from the street. She confronts him, wanting to know how she can see him while no one else can. “So I was right,” he realizes, “You’re not a mundane.” “Mundanes” is another word for Muggles but more comically literal.

At the same time, Clary’s mom is attacked in her apartment by two brutes in cenobite outfits. Their motivation is simple: “Where’s the cup?!” But Clary’s mom will have none of this and — in a startlingly violent sequence — beats the shit out of them with a frying pan and a refrigerator door among other things. She frantically calls Clary and tells her not to come home, so Clary naturally races home as fast as she can.

When she gets there, the apartment is ransacked and her mom is missing. Oh, and there’s a foaming Rottweiler in the apartment… that transforms into a multi-tentacled demon thing and she blows it up like MacGyver. But then it starts to glue itself back together like the T-1000 and Jace — the hunky, stabby guy — shows up just in time to kill it again. If you think I’m making any of this up, see it for yourself:

[When will people learn not to fuck with Cersei Lannister/Sarah Conner? –Liz]

For answers, they go visit Dorothea, the magical black character who lives below Clary. She provides some badly needed exposition, long story short: Clary’s mom was a Shadow Hunter like Jace and she’s been hiding The Mortal Cup (the holy grail, basically) from this evil guy named Valentine. To protect Clary, she made her forget certain things that are just now starting to come back to her and that’s why all this shit is happening now. Break into act two: Clary has to find the Mortal Cup and rescue her mom! That Clary has a clear goal for the rest of the movie already makes her way more likeable than Bella Swan, who’s driving motivation for all the Twilight films was “be infatuated.”

Oh, and Shadow Hunters… part angel… protect the human world… kill demons and vampires… restore the balance… you know the drill.

And so Jace whisks Clary and Simon away to Hogwarts. I’m sorry — “The Institute,” a big church in the middle of downtown that only non-Mundanes can see. There, Clary meets Dumbledore. I’m sorry — Hodge, the wise old elder. Hodge gives her more backstory about Voldemort. I’m sorry — Valentine. Valentine wants the Holy Grail so that he can… do something bad with it. I don’t really know.

[For the reason why “Mortal Instruments” and “Harry Potter” seem to share some DNA, there are a few interesting articles on the subject. –Liz]

Anyway, they go to all these cool places, meet strange people, have flashbacks, fight vampires (including Clary, who kills a vampire with a retractable dildo-gun that has to be seen to be believed) — all the while gathering clues that will lead them to the Mortal Cup and Clary’s mom. But fuck that shit, let’s get to the love quadrangle!

First off, Clary is obviously way into Jace but it’s nowhere near as excruciating as Twilight. For one thing, they actually do stuff together and accomplish things instead of just sitting around in the forest experiencing sexual tension. And their self-referential banter is fun in a Joss-Whedon-y kind of way, as this clip demonstrates:

(If a helicopter piloted by a Mundane were to fly in low over that abandoned church, would it hit anything? Whatever.)

Then later, Jace takes her to the Hogwarts greenhouse where they kiss for the first time, but the moment they start kissing, overhead sprinklers turn on for no reason — a welcome parody of the proverbial “kissing in the rain” scene. I’m not sure if this is calculated parody or just the movie’s way of trying to differentiate itself, but it’s all welcome just the same.

Next in the quadrangle is Simon who is obviously in love with Clary but Clary is hilariously aloof. After they rescue Simon from a horde of vampires, Clary sits by his bedside in the hospital ward and has a heartfelt moment with him. However, through the whole conversation she is sketching something in a notebook — a drawing of Jace with his shirt off. Classic. [This dame is ALL CLASS. –Liz]

(Did I mention that Simon can now see the Shadow Hunters? That just starts happening at some point. And he gets bitten by a vampire, but that is never addressed.) [He’s also played by Robert Sheehan! Who is perfect in the UK series “Misfits”, and is very much missed. –Liz]

Finally, there’s this other Shadow Hunter in their clan named Alec. Alec has a violent confrontation with Clary in which he tells her to stay away from Jace because Jace “doesn’t need this right now” or something, to which Clary says, “You’re in love with him, aren’t you?” Well, he is. Gay romance was always lurking subtextually in the Twilight films but this movie has the balls to just come right out with it. Even better, Alec is played by Kevin Zegers — the kid from the Air Bud movies!

"Golden Receiver" takes on a whole new meaning. [INAPPROPRIATE, JOHN. -- Liz]

“Golden Receiver” takes on a whole new meaning. [JOHN!!!!!! — Liz]

Anyway, when Clary discovers that she has the ability to pull objects in and out of drawings (a very cool and well-realized camera trick), she remembers a tarot card in Dorothea’s apartment that featured a drawing of the Mortal Cup and realizes that her mother must have hid the cup inside the card. So it’s back to Dorothea’s apartment and we come to one of my favorite scenes in which the magical black character trope is turned on its head.

Clary sits at a table with Dorothea and magically pulls the Mortal Cup out of the tarot card. While they’re ogling the thing, Jace is in the background tinkering on the piano. (In an earlier scene—which I took as a parody of the piano playing scenes in 50 Shades of Grey — Clary finds Jace practicing Bach on the piano because, as he explains, Bach was a Shadow Hunter and his music repels demons.)

Dorothea (CCH Pounder) starts to cringe at the music at which point we realize that she’s a demon and an insanely brutal fight breaks out, part of which involves Simon knocking her head out of whack with a snow shovel. I have to say, it was a hilariously welcome role-reversal.

Anyway, they take the holy grail back to Hogwarts and give it to Hodge, who then opens up a portal to let Valentine in (his first appearance in the movie)! Gasp! I guess Valentine and Hodge made some kind of deal in which Hodge would give him the cup and in exchange, Valentine would release some spell that prevented Hodge from ever leaving Hogwarts. I have no idea. I was too busy being amused by the role-reversal — Hodge, the wise old elder, is in fact a complete coward.

Now we’ve made it to what could be said is the movie’s greatest stumbling block—the third act. Through the second act, I didn’t mind the pace at which they barreled through plot points, mainly because the narrative trajectory was always clear: Find the cup and save Clary’s mom! But once we get into the climax, they go way overboard. So much is thrown at you all at once, I literally had no clue what the hell was going on. Still, I found the bugnuts insanity of it all strangely entertaining — perhaps unintentionally so, but fun nonetheless.

For example, after they give the cup to Valentine, Clary can see her mom on the other side of this watery portal thing. (Clary’s mom disappears and reappears all over the place through this whole sequence — I couldn’t keep track.)

So she jumps through the portal and suddenly finds herself dumped out in the middle of a New York street. It’s deserted except for a little girl in a white nightgown who is slowly walking towards her. As the girl gets closer, her eyes roll back inside her head — it’s a demon! Suddenly, out of nowhere, a werewolf pounces on the girl and they smash through a store window. Clary watches in shock, then from out of the store window comes Luke, Clary’s mom’s boyfriend — I guess he’s a werewolf!

Seriously… What. The. Fuck. (Don’t get me wrong, this was one of the best parts of the movie.)

Luke tells Clary that the portal sent her there because it knew that she needed his help. Fine. Then they gather up his army of fellow werewolves who look like Sons of Anarchy extras and get ready to storm the castle.

Meanwhile, back at Hogwarts, Valentine is throwing some spears into the floor at weird angles. You’re not sure why, then the camera booms up and tilts down to reveal exactly what he’s doing. I don’t know what the point of this was, but it’s these camera tricks that make the movie so much fun to watch:

(Don’t ask me what they were discussing in that clip because I don’t really know.)

Clary, Luke, Simon, the werewolves and the other shadow hunters storm the castle and fight demons in the basement for a while. It’s all kind of a blur in my memory, but there is this really cool sequence where one of the shadow hunters, Isabelle, fights off a swarm of bats with a flamethrower.


Finally, Clary reaches the highest tower where Valentine is waiting and we get heavy into the film’s bizarre daddy issues, beginning with this revelation: Valentine is Clary’s father! See, up to this point, we’ve been led to believe that Clary’s father was a soldier who was killed in Iraq. This gets brief lip service at the beginning when she stares longingly at a portrait of him in his military getup. But as it turns out, this portrait was just a painting that her mom made to make her think that her dad was killed in Iraq. (I’m not making any of this up.)

Then Jace shows up for the proverbial sword fight and Valentine drops another bomb: He’s also Jace’s father!


Yeah, and they went way farther than Luke or Leia or those kids from Kickboxing Academy ever did.

[I will NEVER pass up an opportunity to feature for-reals LTFWHI contributors Frank and Jeff talking about “Kickboxing Academy.” –Liz]

Anyway, they sword fight, Valentine tries to get Clary to drink his own blood (don’t ask because I don’t know), and finally, Clary sends Valentine into limbo for all eternity—but not without first chiding him for being a bad father.

With Clary’s mom safely in the hospital, Clary returns to her trashed apartment and magically cleans it up with a rune (a hilarious send up of the “Spoonful of Sugar” sequence from Mary Poppins).

There, Jace shows up to take her for a ride on his motorcycle, but as far as I know, the issue of whether or not they’re brother and sister was never resolved. (Some alternate explanation was given about how Valentine concocted some elaborate lie to make Jace think he was his father, but I couldn’t follow it.) So they ride off into the sunset — Clary with her arms trepidatiously around his waist — and the whole love story ends on an amusingly awkward note.


I’ve only scratched the surface with all the weird shit that happens in this movie. All I can say is go see it before it’s gone! Sure, it may be derivative of all the other teen novel adaptations that came before it, but unlike the majority of its predecessors, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is an exceptionally well-made and entertaining piece of fluff. And regardless of what you may think of Twilight, the rush to copy its success is at least forcing Hollywood to make some interesting female-fronted films (I’ll probably be first in line for Divergent). Now that Stephenie Meyer has retired, the worst is over, so I say keep ‘em coming!


About A "Liz Tells Frank" Guest Writer

I'm a guest writer for Liz Tells Frank What Happened In..., which makes me a very special breed of person, and someone Liz admires deeply! Want to become a guest writer yourself? Just reach out to Liz and ask!

Posted on August 31, 2013, in All the Spoilers, Movies, Other People Telling Liz Stuff and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Hey, that Rottweiler monster was actually pretty disturbing! Kudos, movie I will still never see!

    And, of course, thanks for posting Praise Anatomy.

  2. Hey hey, woah there. Most of this is correct, with some mistakes. I’ve watched the entire movie 6 times already so I know all your mistakes.
    -Luke is NOT Jocelyn’s boyfriend. He is her friend, like Simon is with Clary, who loves Jocelyn but she ended up marrying Valentine.
    -Clary wants to go to the goth club because she wants to see what this /\/\ meant (angelic rune) /\
    -the demon (or as you say ‘Rottweiler’) actually started to melt the parts together, reforming. In the book, Clary killed the demon, but in this movie, Jace (or Jonathan Christopher) killed it
    -the Institute is NOT a church. It is kinda like a hotel for Shadowhunters. Instead, it has a library and a weapon room. (the weapon room is in the book and in the book only)
    -Also another fact about the Institute, all mundanes can see it, not JUST Shadowhunters. I mean, why can Simon see it if he’s a mundane
    -The Mortal Cup is not the Holy Grail -.-
    -Valentine wants to use the Mortal Cup to create more Shadowhunters, Clary included.
    -Clary kills a vampire with a Vampire Gun.
    -Clary makes out with Jace at the Institute
    -the sprinklers were already on
    -‘Next in the quadrangle is Simon who is obviously in love with Clary but Clary is hilariously aloof. After they rescue Simon from a horde of vampires, Clary sits by his bedside in the hospital ward and has a heartfelt moment with him. However, through the whole conversation she is sketching something in a notebook — a drawing of Jace with his shirt off. Classic.” Mention this before the make out scene. Just. Please. It’s annoying.
    -“Finally, there’s this other Shadow Hunter in their clan named Alec. Alec…tells her to stay away from Jace” mention this after Clary enters the Institute for the first time.
    -Alec, after the battle with the vampires, said that he thinks: ‘Clary should leave.’ Clary replies by saying: ‘…you’re in love with Jace and that’s what this is about,’ Alec grabbed her neck and pushed her up against the wall saying: ‘If you say that again, I swear on the Angel, I’ll kill you’ then storms off down the hall. After a while, Clary asked Isabelle if Alec was gay, obviously you would know this if you read the book.
    -Jace was playing on the piano while Clary searched for the right card and Madame Dorothea saying: ‘Young man…piano’s out of tune…stop…that song is one of my favorites’ Dorothea yells at Jace and says, ‘Let’s have a look.’ Clary tried to get the Cup out of her reach and again Clary gets lifted by the neck, Simon hit Dorothea’s head out of whack once he realizes she had the cup, She beat up Alec and Isabelle, Stabbed Alec, and more stuff
    -the gang takes the MORTAL CUP to the INSTITUTE. Alec was in treatment as Clary went to Hodge, gave him the Cup, he opened the portal, and summoned Valentine out. (Clary said, ‘Hodge, what have you done?’ as Valentine walked out the portal)
    -this is not Valentine’s first appearance. A flashback regarding him was shown as Hodge was telling Clary about Valentine wanting to rule.
    -Hodge was doing it to lift the Clave’s curse on him. Which, did not happen due to the loss of the Cup.
    -After Hodge gave Valentine the Cup, Clary said to let her mother go. Clary can see her mom on the other side of the portal as he is motioning to the portal. (Clary’s mom is still there no matter how you look at the portal)

    I could go on with this but it’s taken me a while so…
    -Bad words. Kids could be reading this, you never know.
    -Lack of real knowledge for the movie. Read the book and watch the movie at least 3 times.

    Please look into these things and change them immediately before fans get angry with you.

  1. Pingback: Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “Divergent” | Liz Tells Frank What Happened In...

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