Sing to me, Muse, of the boy of unnecessary plot turns, whose character was rebooted to fit a simplistic sequel. Oh yes, Percy Jackson is back, and the only thing the team behind the second Rick Riordan adaptation seem to have learned is that Logan Lerman is great at angsting. Unfortunately, a fumbling script and conventional action sequences don’t fully take advantage of the cast’s talents, and the Whedonverse cameos that might entice Lightning Thief novices into theaters are not, alas, quite worth the price of 3D.
Our story continues (or, more accurately, is reset) at Camp Halfblood, a Patagonia-stocked haven for the mortal children of the Greek Gods and a simmering red figure vase of hormones. In a prologue, we witness a kindergartner named Thalia sacrifice herself to ensure her friends’ safety, except Zeus (her dad, btw) turns her into a guardian tree in order to save her life and protect the entire camp – which, you’d think that, if he could, you know what? Not important. In the present day, Percy Jackson and friends are having a grand old time during a woodsy Olympiad, although Logan Lerman brought his Perks of Being A Wallflower angst back with him this time; he’s now worrying about being a “one-quest wonder.” Then his old nemesis Luke Castellan attacks the camp for reasons unclear, harming the forcefield-child-tree and revealing there’s a doomsday/savior prophecy about him and Percy. And thus, the mopiest son of Poseidon, his friends, a rival, and a surprise part-Clycops half-brother must journey to find the Golden Fleece. Because myths.
As in the last go round, the movie’s cast is a Fates’ Scroll of actors you’re generally happy are getting work. Lerman, who has shown he can act elsewhere, is sweetly anxious and compassionate as Percy, the ultimate good guy not named Harry Potter. His sidekicks Grover and Annabeth (Brandon T. Jackson and Alexandra Daddario) are suitably photogenic and funny when the occasion calls, and new half-brother Tyson (Douglas Smith) ratchets up playing ‘cheerfully obvious’ to a high level of craftsmanship. The adults, too, have fun with the very little they’re given to do. Nathan Fillion, in particular, relishes his cameo as Hermes and, indeed, rocks those shorts.
The several action sequences will keep parents entertained, and the film moves along at a fast clip. If Hollywood still released 80min movies, Sea of Monsters would be a prime candidate: it’s a dandy YA swashbuckler in its way, with a kid’s expansive, sometimes whimsical and sometimes weird, sense of adventure. I can’t speak to how well the adaptation translates the series, but it seems much of the prophecy mumbo-jumbo and world-building was shaved off in favor of Percy and his friends questing and being there for each other. Which is nice.
The plot. The plot of this movie is so ridiculous – it’s kind of weird to see a story meant for fourth graders to take out on the playground with them handled so straight, with such mid-budget production values. The tone the film takes on the quest for the fleece and the subsequent attempts to stop Luke from using it to revive the titan Kronos (daddy issues lie at the bottom of everything) is neither playful or serious enough. So what you’re left to process is indeed phrases like “one-quest wonder” and the glow of Poseidon’s sword as a signifier of fatherly affection (of all the original PJ cast, Kevin McKidd is the most glaring omission here). By the time we get around to a daughter of Ares being able to commandeer an Ironclad crewed by Zombie confederates…you know, I would rather see that movie, where the crew of a confederate ironclad die and magically come under the power of Mars, who can then deploy them at his whim, or loan them out to his kids.
We’ll leave alone how much is wrong or bent about the mythology as it’s presented here. But let’s talk about kids, because our baddie, Luke? Skinny theater nerd, completely unimpressive. He has a magic transporter thing and attacks the Thalia-tree just to screw with Percy, when if he had not done so, he could have blithely revived the vengeful father of the Gods without anyone else, apparently, noticing.
And this brings us to the final confrontation with Kronos. If you look cooler in an exposition cartoon than you do in reality, then something is wrong here. And the buffering-magma type design of the son of Earth and Sky is crushingly underwhelming, and also short, almost perfunctorily. There’s a lot of beats to the climax which occur largely because someone read an analysis of Die Hard and figured the story needed certain situations and kinds of emotional beats.There’s one beat in particular that feels so tacked on, you may get inappropriate looks when you start laughing in the middle of it. You’ll know it when you see it, and make your own fate.
Likely to please fans of the series and make classics majors feel better about themselves, there are some lightly entertaining elements to Sea of Monsters, but it is by no means even demi-godly.
Take a Drink: whenever anyone says ‘prophecy,’ ‘drachma,’ or ‘quest.’
Take a Drink: when the kids drink anything, or Stanley Tucci tries to drink anything.
Take a Drink: when daddy issues.
Eat a Fruity Oaty Bar: when Nathan Fillion explains what happens to great TV shows.
Take a Drink: whenever Annabeth looks at the sprig of Thalia’s tree.
Take a Drink: whenever Poseidon’s sword glows blue, for orcs are close.