Clary (Collins) sees a mysterious hooded man called Jace (Campbell Bower) stab someone in a nightclub, but no one else can see him. Soon she learns that she and he are part of a race called Shadowhunters, dedicated to protecting humanity from demons.
Teenage girl, hunky brooding boy, supernatural elements, love triangle – yes, it’s another Twilight wannabe, and one with characters so paper-thin and dialogue so muddled that it will make you nostalgic for R.Pattz. Adapted from the first of Cassandra Clare’s series of young adult novels, this is clearly intended to launch a franchise (Sigourney Weaver’s lined up for the sequel) but just like the characters, who barely listen to one another judging by their barely connected remarks, cinema audiences seem unlikely to pay this much attention.
The standard-issue vampires and werewolves among us are joined here by part-angelic “Shadowhunters”, who gain super-power by doodling on themselves with sonic screwdrivers and who hunt demons when not brooding handsomely. It emerges that the previous generation, including Lena Headey as Clary’s mother and Aidan Turner as werewolf Luke, have lots of soapy conflict that spreads into their children’s lives when young Clary discovers that she’s part of this mysterious group.
Collins’ Clary, not so much a character as a situation, is introduced to Jamie Campbell Bower’s Jace, who tries desperately to inject some humour while saddled with boring exposition and a laughably pseudo-tragic backstory. Then there’s Kevin Zeger’s Alec, whose role is solely to grab people in doorways and threaten them, and Isabelle, who’s given less exposition than her wardrobe. Jared Harris is the housebound leader of the bunch, trying desperately to add gravitas, but Jonathan Rhys-Meyers isn’t even trying for subtlety as big bad Valentine. The film at least sidesteps the book’s icky incest sub-plot, but any credit it gets as a result is squandered when it downplays the gay romance as well.
Fans of the book may follow as the plot races along with little explanation between action beats, but everyone else will be left wondering when Hogwarts moved to New York, what the hell is at stake amid all the brawling and whether the tone is meant to be serious or tongue-in-cheek. Despite some good effects and design work, it’s a disappointing result for a moderately entertaining book.
Apparently unable to decide whether to take its own mythology seriously or not, this is a mess of sculpted cheekbones and incoherent romance.