In a post-Potter world, Hollywood is desperate to find an answer to the wondrous world of everyone’s favourite bespectacled, lightning scarred wizard. Despite a poor box office showing upon its original release PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF (2010) it appears the steady critical support paired with desperation and a veritable cornucopia of source material, Percy rides again. Director Thor Freudenthal and writer Marc Guggenheim’s PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS (PJ:SOM) is a lazy mess of coincidence and contrivance that floats like a cannonball.
When a former member of the half casts Luke (Jake Abel) poisons Thalia’s tree, which is responsible for the force field that protects Camp Half-Blood, Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) must begin a quest to the SEA OF MONSTERS aka The Bermuda Triangle to retrieve the Golden Fleece from the clutches of Polyphemus the cyclops. Standing in their way is Luke, hellbent on unleashing the Titan Cronos upon the world.
The only saving graces of PJ:SOM are its adult cameo crew, whose natural charm momentarily lifts you out of the mediocre material. Anthony Stuart Head (formerly of the television series BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER fame), is perfectly suited to Chiron the centaur; this franchise’s answer to Dumbledore. He bears the burden of prophecy and the task of sending these youthful demigods into peril for their ‘glory’ (one assumes, it’s never that clear.) While Stanley Tucci’s Mr. D(ionises) is cheeky comedic relief that entertains momentarily. Finally Nathan Fillion’s Hermes is just an excuse to have him do anything on screen, including crow-barring a lovely FIREFLY gag in their for the ‘Browncoats’ in the audience.
Lerman’s disarming brilliance as Charlie in last year’s wonderful THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER must have had a lot to do with writer/director Stephen Chobowsky’s passion (get spelling) and skill in extracting such a pitch perfect performance. When he’s being directed by Freudenthal and speaking the words of Guggenheim he feels like a cybernetic version of the Lerman in PERKS. Even in the original PERCY JACKSON in the accomplished directorial hands of Chris Columbus (HOME ALONE, HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE, HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS) Lerman gave you a character to root for. Freudenthal handles the special effects bonanza associated with this modern take on the mythological in the scenes with the largest scope, give him giant seahorses rippling with chrome rainbow skin cutting through waves, or descending in a flimsy life boat toward the endless incisors of the Kraken, or sneaking about the cavernous lair of a giant Cyclops and you’re watching adventure cinema. The younger performers, Alexandra Daddario, Douglas Smith, Leven Rambin and Brandon T. Jackson flounder, unable to give meaning to the narrative dominos falling around them. Regardless of the fact that Guggenheim’s scripting may be a side product of condensing Rick Riordan’s novel — one would assume that while they’re in the business of pilfering from Potter (Riordan’s novels were published in 2005 – J.K Rowling’s first Potter novel was published in 1997 & Philosopher’s Stone was released cinematically in 2001) they should take cues from post-Cuaròn Potter (HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN); honour the ‘essential/elemental’ story i.e. shifted the focus to Harry as the central figure at the expense of slavish adherence to every detail. Every single moment of PJ:SOM feels like it’s pre-determined, even the characters themselves feel like they are forgone conclusions.
If PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF gave a studio hope enough to jumpstart this franchise then PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS ensures that it ‘sleeps with the fishes.’
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to the audio review on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Thor Freudenthal
Written by: Marc Guggenheim (based upon the novel “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters” written by Rick Riordan)
Starring: Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, Douglas Smith, Leven Rambin, Brandon T. Jackson