Now that the supernatural romance series Twilight has faded into darkness and Harry Potter has vanquished Voldemort, studios are grasping for copycat opportunities. Cassandra Clare’s six-part Mortal Instruments series (five have been published so far) seems to offer much that’s familiar, including vampires, werewolves and even some demon hunters.
This first episode of what threatens to be a franchise (a sequel is already announced) suggests Twilight, Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code were run through a blender and served lukewarm. Once again, a moody adolescent discovers she is from an ancient race with special powers. Lily Collins (daughter of Phil Collins) plays Clary Fray, a New York teenager who goes to poetry readings and draws and squabbles with her mom; until one evening she discovers she's no mere “mundane” (Mortal Instruments’ answer to Harry Potter’s “muggles”). Instead, she’s a Shadowhunter, a race of angelic assassins dropped on earth during the Crusades to fight the shape-shifting demons that are among us.
The plot follows Clary’s attempts to find her kidnapped mother (Lena Headey) and to recover a “Mortal Cup” of obscure powers. Sticking to the romance formula, she’s torn between two men: the nerdy best friend, Simon (Robert Sheehan) and the sinewy blond supernatural boy, Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), who introduces Clary to her new supernatural life and helps unblock her memory.
Collins (Mirror, Mirror) is a pale young English beauty with caterpillar eyebrows and an unfortunate tendency to let her mouth hang open when other characters are speaking. That happens all too often here, as a parade of supernatural androgynous men explain the story's convoluted mythology. The line-up includes Alec (Kevin Zegers) who has a repressed gay crush on Jace; the kinky warlock Magnus Bane (Godrey Gao); the professorial Jared Harris as Jace’s tutor; and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as an ambiguous figure who blends Star War’s Darth Vader and The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Dr. Frankenfurter.
Within this bloated fantasy hodgepodge, there are few grace notes: In the role of the creepy fortune teller, Madame Dorothea, CCH Pounder (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) is evil fun. And a few special effects, including a Rottweiller who turns into a skinned hellhound, leave an impression. Otherwise, Mortal Instruments manages to occupy 130 minutes of frantic, numbing, activity.