Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters is the follow-up to 2010′s Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief – both big screen adaptations of Rick Riordan’s five part Percy Jackson book series. After preventing a world-threatening civil war between Zeus and Poseidon, the celebrity status of Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) has started to fade. New demigods have been upstaging the titular hero, most notably the daughter of Ares, Clarisse La Rue (Leven Rambin), causing Percy to question whether his earlier victory was nothing more than beginner’s luck.
That is until the magical barrier protecting Camp Half-Blood is breached and Percy is once again called upon to defend both human as well as demigod kind. Joined by his friends Grover Underwood (Brandon T. Jackson) and Annabeth Chase (Alexandra Daddario), along with half-brother Tyson (Douglas Smith), Percy sets out for the Sea of Monsters (aka the Bermuda Triangle) in search of The Golden Fleece – a magical piece of fabric capable of healing the barrier (as well as anyone or anything else on the verge of death). However, along the way, Percy and his fellow travelers come face to face with an old enemy who has a nefarious interest in the Fleece – as a means of enacting revenge on the ancient Olympians.
For the second installment, Thor Freudenthal (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) has taken over franchise directorial duties from Chris Columbus – and the result is a film that will easily satisfy pre-teen fans of the book series (or any of the twenty-something actors involved). However, Sea of Monsters isn’t nearly as well realized as the previous installment – meaning that older moviegoers who enjoyed The Lightning Thief may find that Freudenthal’s entry stumbles in its efforts to offer anything more than shallow, and kid-friendly, adventuring.
The first installment leaned heavily on the grand scale of the larger Percy Jackson storyline, where the titular hero has direct contact with mystical creatures and heavy-hitting Gods Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades – making it a guilty pleasure for fans of Greek mythology and fantasy adventure (read our Lightning Thief review), in addition to the target children/teen demographics. This round, the story is much more narrow, primarily focused on stale teenage character drama to fill in the gaps between CGI creature encounters. Unfortunately, even when the onscreen action ramps up, many of the skirmishes are brief and underwhelming – not to mention surprisingly short of interesting mythological creatures.
Younger filmgoers will still be able to appreciate the middle-of-the-road action adventure and respond to the banter between Sea of Monsters heroes and villains (as they should). Yet, Freudenthal falls short of the bar set by Columbus, failing to elevate the material in any meaningful (or particularly interesting) way, and as a result, limits the number of viewers who will find worthwhile payoff in his film.
Instead, viewers will get an often silly and brainless quest story, bouncing from one over-the-top set piece to the next – where the heroes are mostly flying by the seat of their pants and can rarely claim any authority over their successes. In place of careful world building and smart implementation of Greek lore, Sea of Monsters is mostly concerned with keeping its characters in motion (not to mention preparing the way for a third film) – rarely taking time to set up or pay off any of the numerous ideas that are haphazardly thrown into the mix. Familiar (and oftentimes clumsy) story mechanics, along with a few underwhelming twists, move the plot forward – while heavy-handed (albeit magical) tools help Percy (and the film’s writers) escape any dead ends.
The cast is serviceable – though the main trio is each provided with significantly less of an arc this time. Percy is understandably offered the meatiest storyline but he spends the majority of the film in self-doubt and longing for his Olympian father (previously portrayed by Kevin McKidd), who is nowhere to be found this time. Lerman makes the most of what he’s given but the actor, who has turned out strong portrayals in the past (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), is poorly utilized and some of his more introspective scenes border on melodrama instead of engaging insight.
Annabeth (Daddario) and Grover (Jackson) are also trimmed down to shallow sidekick caricatures – after enjoying two of the more engaging arcs in the original film. In Sea of Monsters, Annabeth is relegated to butt-kicking love interest duty as well as saddled with a cringeworthy storyline about prejudice and grudge holding. Sadly, Grover fares even worse: he’s merely a cog in the machine with no actual development – made essential with a throwaway line explaining that only a satyr can locate the Fleece.
Newcomers Tyson (Smith) and Clarisse (Leven Rambin) help to freshen up the cast but neither character provides anything but one-note counterpoints to the returning heroes. Similarly, while fan-favorite Nathan Fillion makes a brief appearance as Hermes (replacing actor Dylan Neal) – the only Greek god willing to be involved this round. Sadly, his part is riddled with so many goofy nods to the audience that any attempt at adding something meaningful is lost in between all of the campy one liners.
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters is playing in 3D as well as 2D theaters but the film doesn’t do anything particularly unique with the format. While there are a few moments where the 3D shines, many of the film’s visual effects and monsters are pretty rough – meaning that even when the 3D looks good, it’s hard to be fully immersed in the onscreen action. For that reason, selective 3D filmgoers are safe skipping the added cost; though, diehard fans of the series, along with anyone who doesn’t mind premium ticket costs, might find a few memorable 3D moments to justify their upgrade.
Freudenthal’s Sea of Monsters is a step down for the Percy Jackson franchise in nearly every single way imaginable. The scale is smaller, the characters are less interesting, and the film makes poor use of its rich book and Greek mythology source materials. Young movie (and book series) fans will likely find enjoyment in watching their favorite heroes and actors back on the big screen for another Percy Jackson adventure but the movie provides next to nothing for anyone outside of that core demographic. As mentioned, the film spends a significant amount of time planting seeds for the next entry in the series, but it’s hard to imagine that many moviegoers will be as anxious for part three, The Titan’s Curse, after sitting through this Sea of Monsters.
Ben Kendrick blogs at Screen Rant.