Story

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is the first in what is likely to be a series based on books by Cassandra Clare. The story begins as 16-year-old Clary Fray (Lily Collins) becomes entangled in a series of strange happenings. First, Clary finds herself subconsciously drawing mysterious rune-like symbols, which puts Clary’s mother, Jocelyn (Lena Headey), on edge. Second, while visiting a nightclub with her best friend Simon (Robert Sheehan), Clary sees three strange-looking people, who are invisible to everyone except Clary. These three people attack and kill a young man.

The following day Clary gets a frantic call from her mother and races home to find the house wrecked and her mother missing. Clary is confronted by a Rottweiler dog that turns into a demonic creature that wants to kill her. The invisible young man Clary saw committing murder the previous night rescues her in the nick of time. Clary’s invisible rescuer is Jace (Jamie Campbell), a shadowhunter. Shadowhunters are half human and half angel. They hunt down and destroy demons.

To help Clary understand what’s going on, Jace takes Clary and Simon to a sanctuary where Clary meets a group of young shadowhunters led by ageing shadowhunter Hodge (Jared Harris). Clary learns that she too is a shadowhunter and that the world is full of supernatural beings including demons, vampires, werewolves and witches. Through Hodge, Clary learns that an ex-shadowhunter named Valentine (Jonathan Rys Meyer) is responsible for her mother’s abduction.

Determined to rescue her mother, Clary teams up with Jace and the other shadowhunters to confront Valentine.

Themes

Supernatural beings and powers

Violence

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones has intense sequences of fantasy action violence, which is sometimes brutal and shows characters using swords, knives and spears. The movie also shows torture, deaths and some blood and gore. For example:

  • In a nightclub two men and a woman wear gothic clothing and black leather face masks. They have tattoos covering their arms and necks. A young man approaches the young woman. She is wearing a metal bracelet in the shape of a snake, which becomes animated, slithers down her arm and wraps itself around the man’s arm. One of the gothic men approaches and grabs hold of the young man. The other gothic man slashes the young man across the throat with a sword. The dying man writhes on the floor with a thin red bloody line across his throat and the metal snake slithering around his arm.
  • Two young men carrying a sword and a spear burst into a woman’s apartment. The door is blown off its hinges and across the room. This throws the woman thrown through the air, and she lands hard on her back. One of the men picks up the woman and throws her against a wall, and she crashes to the floor. The woman gets up and attacks the two men. She tries to stab one with a knife and bashes the other across the head with an iron frying pan. Then she keeps slamming a refrigerator door into the man’s head until she knocks him unconscious. The woman attacks the second man with an iron frying pan, hitting him over the head and escaping into the bathroom. In the end the woman can’t escape, so she drinks the contents of a small bottle and falls unconscious.
  • In one scene showing torture, a man is bound to a chair with manacles. Two men question him, taunt him and repeatedly punch him in the face.
  • A young man, who seems to be unconscious, is bound in chains and left hanging from a ceiling. The image resembles a crucifixion.
  • During an extended fight between several shadowhunters and dozens of vampires, shadowhunters stab vampires through the chest with swords and slash their throats. One shadowhunter uses a vampire gun that has a barbed spike to pierce a vampire’s chest. Towards the end of the battle several werewolves crash through windows and attack the vampires. A vampire’s hand smokes and burns when it is exposed to daylight.
  • A young man burns images into his arm with a supernaturally powered blue light.
  • A demon kills a werewolf by using its clawed hand to stab the werewolf through the chest.
  • A young girl kicks her father through a transport portal that appears as a vertical circle of shimmering water. The man tries to walk back through the portal and his arms come through the water. The young girl touches a device, which causes the water and the man’s arms to freeze.

Content that may disturb children

Under 5

In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones has scenes and characters that are likely to scare or disturb children under five years. For example:

  • A snarling Rottweiler dog confronts a young woman. The top of the dog’s head splits open to show a large deep bloody wound, and the dog grows a mouth full of fangs. Tentacles grow out of the dog’s body, and the dog changes into a horrible creature that crashes through a bathroom door and tries to attack the young woman. The young woman pours a flammable liquid over the creature and sets it on fire. Gruesome globs of transparent jelly-like flesh, including an eyeball, slide across the floor before the dog is reconstituted.
  • A police officer’s face has a black skull-like appearance with a mouth full of oversized teeth and glowing eyes.
  • One scene shows several scary beings with pale bald heads, heavily sunken dark eyes and mouths that are stitched together with large ragged stitches.
  • The vampires have bald heads, blue veined pale faces and mouths full of protruding fangs.
  • There are many werewolves, which appear both in wolf form and as men with mouths full of wolf-like teeth and snarling expressions.
  • A woman changes into a demon. Her eyes turn yellow, she has black teeth, veins protrude from her face, and a tentacle bursts out of the back of her neck.
  • Flocks of large crow-like birds transform into demon creatures. 

From 5-8

Children in this age group are also very likely to be disturbed by the scenes mentioned above and by the following scenes:

  • There is an image of an angel with the vein on its wrist cut open and blood pouring out into a cup. The scene explains that humans drank the angel’s blood to give them supernatural powers that enable them to hunt demons.
  • One scene shows a little girl standing in a street. The girl’s eyes roll back into her head as a werewolf grabs her in its jaws. They disappear off screen, but the scene includes the sounds of the girl screaming and bones being crunched. 

From 8-13

Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by many of the scenes and characters mentioned above. 

Over 13

Younger children in this age group might also be disturbed by some of the scenes mentioned above. 

Sexual references

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones has some low-level sexual references and innuendo. For example:

  • A character says, ‘That blond was totally flirting with you’. Another character replies, ‘I’m saving myself for someone else’.
  • A demon asks a werewolf if he wants to ‘hump’ his legs and ‘smell my derriere’.
  • A man says that a young woman is dressed like a hooker and looks like someone whose phone number should be on a bathroom wall.
  • A man wearing short shorts and eye makeup refers to another young man as the ‘hot one with blue eyes’.
  • A young woman tells a young man that he should admit to being in love with another man. 

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

There is some use of substances in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. For example:

  • A woman drinks a substance that makes her fall unconscious.
  • A man spikes a young man’s drink with blue drops, which causes the man to gasp and gag when he drinks it. It turns out that the young man has been poisoned.
  • A young man tells a young woman that they pump hallucinogenic gas into the air at nightclubs.
  • A man injects himself with blood, which makes him convulse. 

Nudity and sexual activity

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones includes some nudity and sexual activity. For example:

  • There are infrequent images of women dressed in tight-fitting and revealing clothing.
  • There are shadowy images of a woman changing her clothes behind a screen.
  • A young man and woman kiss passionately on the lips. 

Product placement

The following products are displayed or used in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones: iPhones, iMac laptops, brand-name cars and tattoos. 

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Ideas to discuss with your children

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is an action fantasy movie, similar to the Twilight Saga movies but not as well done. Like the Twlight Saga movies, it’s based on a series of fantasy novels (by Cassandra Clare), but it has a confusing plot and stereotypical characters.

The movie’s violence, scary characters – including vampires and werewolves – and disturbing scenes make it unsuitable for children under 13 years and some older children. We strongly recommend parental guidance for younger teenagers who might be attracted to the movie by the attractive actors or who are familiar with the books.

These are the main messages from this movie:

  • The world stays the same – people change.
  • Working as a team makes individual people stronger.
  • Families are important and worth fighting for.

Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include courage as shown by Clary’s mother, Jocelyn, Clary herself, Simon, Jace, Alec and Isabel. All these characters risk their lives to protect others.

This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues. For example, Clary’s mother has repeatedly lied to Clary to protect Clary from the forces of evil. Is it justifiable to lie to the people we love if we think it’s in their best interest?