It probably is a clever idea. Three decades ago, Greek Mythology was sledge-hammered into many a freshman’s enfeebled brain via Edith Hamilton’s curriculum crushing tome on the subject, filled with cultural curiosities and school marm seriousness. Today, we get hipster characters with contemporary quirks and adolescent angst straight out of John Hughes’ Trapper Keeper. Indeed, the young adult sensation(?) Percy Jackson and the Olympians doesn’t quite spoon-feed the classic tales to kids so much as repurpose them as part of the standard underage adventure romp.
The film versions aren’t much different, and after the lackluster performance of the opening effort in the fledgling franchise, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief ($226 million in receipts vs. a $95 million budget), it seems strange that Fox would be coming back for more. Luckily, previous director Chris Columbus has stepped down to act in a production role only. Unfortunately, Hotel for Dogs and Diary of a Wimpy Kid‘s Thor Freudenthal is now sitting behind the lens, and his lack of experience with this kind of material shows. What should be a rollicking spectacle instead limps along without much energy, drive, or fun.
Our hero (a rapidly aging Logan Lerman) has started to settle into his half-blood status as Poseidon’s only human son… that is, until a Cyclops named Tyson (Douglas Smith) comes along to claim a similar parentage. Percy doesn’t want a half-brother, but before he can really lament the situation, his adopted forest home is threatened. Apparently, many years before, a demi-god named Thalia (Paloma Kwiatkowski) gave up her life to save the camp, and now the tree which honors her memory offers a protective barrier to outsiders. When the son of Hermes, otherwise known as lightning thief Luke (Jake Abel) poisons the plant as part of a plot to raise the evil Kronos from the dead to destroy Olympus, Percy and his pals Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) and Grover the satyr (Brandon T. Jackson) must travel to the Bermuda Triangle to find to Golden Fleece. Only its power can save the tree and thwart Luke.
Something trying to be as dynamic as Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters shouldn’t be so lifeless. While screenwriter Mark Guggenheim manages to boil down author Rick Riordan’s overly complicated plot to its bare essentials, this is still an overstuffed narrative with too much going on and too little time to appreciate anything. Case in point — when Percy, Annabeth, Grover, and Tyson head out to find the fleece, they get into a cab controlled by The Graeae (Missi Pyle, Yvette Nicole Brown, and Mary Birdsong). Blind, and using their well-known single eye to see into the future, the three witches provide a jolt of energy the rest of the movie genuinely lacks. Before we know it, however, they are swallowed up by some special effects and carted off before we can even get a handle on why. As with most of Sea of Monsters, they are there for exposition, but they also project a kind of craziness this otherwise sedate experience lacks.
Who would have thought a monster whirlpool or a battle against a giant beast within an abandoned amusement park would be so… dull. Freudenthal’s timing is all off, best exemplified by how often the numerous jokes in the movie fall horribly flat. Nothing truly resonates. It all plays like parts of a blueprint that supposed to guarantee success but ends up offering up little but story contrivances and CG. Perhaps if the script had been streamlined even further, we’d find something to cheer about here. Instead, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters feels like a sequel no one asked for and took said sentiment to heart.