In the wake of the gargantuan success of Harry Potter, every studio fell over themselves to come up with a successor to the crown. Thus far, nothing has come of their efforts except a surge during the early-2000s of tepid, forgettable fantasy rubbish. One of the few successful attempts was ‘Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief’ (2010), a playful mix of kids adventure and Greek mythology bolstered by a strong central performance from Logan Lerman as a teenager who discovers he is the half-son of the Greek God Poseidon. Three years later, that first installment finally has a follow up with ‘Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters’, but has it been too long for the magic to stay intact?
Percy Jackson has made himself a home at Camp Half-Blood alongside other teenagers with mythical parents. His home is suddenly under threat, however, when the barrier protecting the camp from dark forces begins to crumble. Along with old friends Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) and satyr Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), as well as Tyson (Douglas Smith), a Cyclops half-brother Percy never knew he had, they go in search of their only hope: the legendary Golden Fleece. It’s a race against time to find it, as old foe Luke (Jake Abel) is also after the Fleece in order to reawaken a darkness from the beginning of time.
SWITCH: PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS 3D - TRAILER
The first film was directed by Chris Columbus, who also directed the first two Harry Potter films. This time, however, those duties fall to Thor Freudenthal, whose previous credits include ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ (2010). This doesn’t make him the most logical choice for such an effects-heavy fantasy film, but he does a competent job, working with cinematographer Shelly Johnson to give the film a wonderfully cinematic and quite epic look. Unfortunately, the screenplay from Marc Guggenheim is far from a strong piece of work, falling into cliché and dull exposition, and refusing to allow the film to establish a strong rhythm. For all its short fallings, the first film had a tremendous wit about it, and the characters were all distinct and interesting. In this instance, background characters are weakly sketched and thoroughly uninteresting. Thank goodness for the central team of Percy, Annabeth and Grover, who are all strong enough characters to keep things bounding along. There’s a tremendous amount of inherent fun in this film, never taking itself too seriously, and while it doesn’t carry the emotional weight of the first film, it still makes for an fun few hours.
Central to the success of the film is Lerman, who continues to prove himself a tremendous star in the making. Percy is the reluctant hero, and here we find him navigating his transition from a teenager to a man. Lerman is charming, charismatic and thoroughly relatable. His co-stars haven’t his talent, but Alexandra Daddario is a great counterbalance to Percy as the spunky Annabeth. Douglas Smith tries too hard to be amiable as Tyson and rarely hits the emotional beats necessary, but Brandon T. Jackson is nowhere near as irritating as Grover could have been. Jake Abel, though, is a thoroughly dull villain as Luke, giving a performance that suggests he’d rather be anywhere but in this film.
The screenplay falls into cliché and dull exposition, and refusing to allow the film to establish a strong rhythm.
One of the things that really bolstered the first film was the terrific supporting cast of great adult actors, including Pierce Brosnan, Uma Thurman, Sean Bean and Kevin McKidd. Unfortunately, none of them have returned for the second installment, Anthony Head taking over from Brosnan as Percy’s centaur mentor Chiron, which just feels like the kind of character we’ve seen from him before. Stanley Tucci, as camp leader Dionysus, looks thoroughly bored in the part, but gives it his best, and while Nathan Fillion gives an enjoyably batty performance as Hermes, ill-judged meta-jokes and an annoying talking snake staff dampen him somewhat. It’s a pity, as this second film could really have used the gravitas of the star power that bolstered the first film.
There’s no denying that ‘Sea of Monsters’ has a charm about it, and is an entertaining reminder of the kind of kids action-adventures that became a staple of the 80s and 90s. Where it falters more than anything is that it simply doesn’t have the resources at its disposal that the first film had, and there’s a feeling of compromise over the whole film. This film isn’t going to win Percy Jackson any new fans, and it’s safe to say that Harry Potter’s crown is still yet to be claimed, but fans of the first film will find a lot to like in ‘Sea of Monsters’, and kids will get a kick out of the wonderful (and wonderfully accurate) celebration of the rich and twisted world of Greek mythology.