Review by Logan
Religious stories and so-called religious “mythology” has become a subject of interest in entertainment in recent years. Dan Brown’s books have sold millions of copies, the newest Paranormal Activity draws from Roman Catholic traditions, and most recently the first installment in the Mortal Instruments series breaches the topic of demons and demon hunters.
The story begins with Clary, a normal teenage girl, complete with “just friend” Simon whose attractions she’s oblivious to. She’s normal, that is, except for the fact that she can see the world of demons and demon hunters, which normal people can’t see. Which is why she sees demon hunters slay a demon in a nightclub, and she freaks out.
Of course, the demon was disguised as a person, so I’d probably freak out too if I saw some random people stab some guy to death in the middle of a nightclub.
Several things then happen. She meets the demon hunters, and around the same time her mother gets kidnapped, apparently by demons. Among the demon hunters are Jace, the pretty boy and all-around bad boy of the group who we all know will be the love interest, Alec, an angry teenager who would take great pleasure in slitting Clary’s throat, and Isabelle, a pushy and proud girl who is Alec’s sister. Once Clary and Simon are taken back to their hideout, they meet Hodge, played brilliantly by Jared Harris (Moriarty from the second Sherlock Holmes movie). He’s the three hunters’ tutor, and suffers from a curse confining him to their hideout.
This is when things get more interesting. The demon hunters have the power to fight demons because, according to the legend, they have in them angel blood. As a result, they have some magical abilities (although not the level of power that wizards have), and they create runes, which are kind of like special tattoos that give them powers (it’s way cooler than it sounds, trust me). The backdrop of the story is pretty cool, but there’s a more concerning element at work here.
The film’s (or book’s, depending on how you look at it) mythology is one that somehow manages to take the inherent spirituality out of a discussion on angels and demons. Demons are not agents of Satan, or even of Hell. They come from another dimension. Jace, being in a very real sense the representative to us of the Nephilim, or demon hunters, is himself an atheist. Even the word Nephilim is stripped of its significance in a way. The Nephilim are a group of people referenced in Genesis 6 that show up after the sons of God start marrying the daughters of men. The only thing we really know about them from the Bible is that they were strong. Some have interpreted the sons of God marrying daughters of men to mean that angels and humans were “marrying,” and the Nephilim were the children that came about, which is my guess as to what inspired Cassandra Clare with the idea for this series. Still, her version of Nephilim manages to somehow remove the theological implications. If angels and people with supposed angel blood in them exist, wouldn’t that mean that God does to? Not necessarily, in this world. So we’re let to ask the question, should we be supportive of this when it’s intentionally stripping theological themes of all its theology?
It doesn’t strip all of it, however. The legend of the Nephilim’s inception is through an angel named Raziel, and if you’ve read the books, you know that more theology comes out during the series. It is still concerning that inherently religious themes are being watered down, but if you’re willing to stick with this series to the end (and assuming they do it somewhat accurately), you’ll see that the worldview in chthe end is one that acknowledges God in a way that cannot be ignored.
But a movie is not only about its theological backdrop. It’s also about the main conflict. Here the main conflict is that the villain, named Valentine, wants to raise an army of demons for himself. He’s obsessed with the idea of controlling demons. He also just happens to . . . well, shall we say know Clary’s mother, which is why he’s kidnapped her. Clary’s mother Jocelyn, along with Hodge, were in a group led by Valentine several years ago. We get a built up idea of Valentine early on, that he’s this eccentric, persuasive individual, which is what makes him even more dangerous than your average bad guy. When we meet him, however, all of those expectations come crashing down. I would have expected a character in the mold of Saruman or a young Tom Riddle, evil but smooth with a powerful presence. What we end up with is a pretty average, ordinary bad guy. I don’t blame Jonathon Rhys-Meyers for that, his acting was pretty good. The problem is that the character wasn’t written well.
As for my next problem with the film, I know as I’m typing this that fans of the book are going to be screaming at me because, after all, it does happen in the book. That doesn’t mean I’m okay with it. One of the most frustrating things to me both as a reader and as a film-goer is when the storytellers act as though, even with a demon-ushered apocalypse being threatened, they act as though I can’t possibly be entertained without a soap opera going on too. When the love triangle between Jace, Clary, and Simon started happening, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. I found myself yearning for those scenes to be over so we could get back to the real conflict. Then there’s Alec, who, as it turns out, hates Clary so much because he’s gay and he likes Jace. Here’s yet another convenient way to add some fuel to the fire of the sexual liberation movement, and incorporate more sinful depravity into our culture (if you don’t understand why homosexuality is wrong according to the Bible, look at Romans 1:26-29, 1 Timothy 1:10, and 1 Corinthians 6:9).
There are other things in the movie that robbed it of what it could have been, as well. Don’t get me wrong, the special effects were incredible and they managed to pull off the various fantasy elements such as werewolves, warlocks, demons, demon hunters, and curses without it seeming too corny, which is quite an accomplishment. However, the film ultimately suffers from a lack of good acting among the lead characters, or at least a few bad selections for the parts. Lilly Collins knocks Clary’s character out of the park, but Rhys-Meyers is hardly breathtaking as Valentine, and Jamie Campbell Bower’s performance, while I love the accent, is stiff and almost stand-offish at times, and I find it hard to buy his performance. Thankfully the minor characters were done extremely well, and I think the actors can improve from this first installment, but the end result this time around is a fantastic idea that is, at times, poorly executed. For that, I give this film a 3/5.