Directed by Thor Freudenthal
Written by Marc Guggenheim
The footprint that J.K. Rowling left in the world of pop culture is ever-expanding, even as those who are influenced by her work often produce something that feels less like an homage to the world of Hogwarts, Muggles, and wizards, and more like shameless rip-offs or mashups. So it goes with Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, the sequel to the moderately successful 2010 fantasy Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. Like its predecessor, Sea of Monsters owes a great debt to Harry Potter and his magical friends, and thus, is rarely able to rise above the level of dull and derivative.
Again, Logan Lerman is the title character, a blandly goodhearted demigod (called Half Bloods here), the son of a human woman and Poseidon, god of the sea. Percy and his friends Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) team up once again to save Olympus, humanity, the world, etc. after the barrier to the teen-demigod home is fractured by Luke (Jake Abel), the demigod who caused all sorts of trouble in (and because he was) The Lightning Thief. There is a prophecy, because of course there is; there are numerous CGI-laden sequences, because of course there are; and there is very little else outside of constant reminders that the Harry Potter film and book series were both special in so many ways that this film can’t begin to achieve.
To be clear, it’s not as if J.K. Rowling cornered the market on teenagers being dominated by angst over prophecies, or on a trio of friends teaming up to fight fantastical evil. But the Boy Who Lived hovers over the Percy Jackson movies, mostly for ill. Lerman was a breath of fresh, wounded air in last year’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but is removed of any wit, life, or personality as Percy. The same goes for Daddario and Jackson, even if the latter is given most of the thuddingly flat comic-relief one-liners. In fact, the only people on screen who are allowed any vitality are the adult characters, of which there are six. Even worse, they may have a combined screen time of 15 minutes. Thankfully, those adults include Stanley Tucci, Nathan Fillion, Yvette Nicole Brown, and Anthony Head (stepping in for Pierce Brosnan). Even though each of these actors has a vague look that could be read as “And I’ll get my paycheck when?”, the adult characters have a bit more fun onscreen. (Fillion, in particular, is a delight in his one-scene role, even getting in a funny, if totally baffling, dig at one of his former beloved roles.)
The younger performers aren’t so much unskilled as left adrift by a script, from writer Marc Guggenheim, that sends them from one locale to another, never letting the characters breathe or develop outside of singular traits. (Here, Percy gets a Cyclops brother who is more friendly than the rest of his race, and that’s all there is we know about him. One minor plot point revolves around him carrying an inexplicably loud backpack that attracts attention; it’s all the more inexplicable because no one ever bothers to ask what the hell he’s carrying that’s making such a racket.) Each new setting isn’t particularly striking to look at, even in 3D; they’re just excuses for more and more CGI to be injected into the proceedings. Perhaps most troubling is that the climax takes place partially at a fictional and mythological theme park, but was shot at the dilapidated and abandoned site of the former Six Flags New Orleans, partially destroyed and left for dead in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Though the location may have offered director Thor Freudenthal some visually arresting untouched images, it’s uncomfortable to see that tarnished-by-nature locale used for a special-effects-heavy kids’ movie.
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters is a half-hearted, bland attempt to tide families over in the dog days of summer 2013. Its young cast deserves better; they may not be as innately talented as Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, or Rupert Grint (though Lerman has shown that he’s got a future outside of such projects), but the script they’re saddled with is an unbeatable albatross around their collective necks. Though it’s been nearly 3 years since the last Harry Potter movie and over 6 years since the last Harry Potter book, the series’ impact is still being felt and the content copied and warmed over. Maybe with less cheap-looking CGI, maybe with a punchier, smarter, less pandering script, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters would be more entertaining and not an empty, shallow husk. Unfortunately, the latter is what we’re left with, an unwelcome gift and closer to the summer movie season.
— Josh Spiegel