Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013)
I miss Twilight and Harry Potter. I miss Potter because of its quality and I miss Twilight because it was a phenomena I understood, even if I wasn’t its biggest fan. We’re now in a world full of Potter and Twilight pretenders where there are only a few established teen fantasy series left and of those only The Hunger Games is any good. Everything else is a faltering attempt to try and kickstart a franchise and make piles of “fuck you” money. Having rated the first one, I was quite excited to see where the series goes. Would it go darker like so many second parts before it? Turns out, no. It’ll just stop trying.
“Couldn’t find any decent quotes, but it’s no big loss.”
We rejoin Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) at Camp Half Blood, where he’s training hard to prove he’s not a “one quest wonder”. He’s again joined by pals Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) and Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and together they have to re-establish the life-saving magical barrier around the camp by finding the legendary Golden Fleece. It’s not as simple as all that though as the camp’s top warrior, the combative Clarisse (Leven Rambin), has already been sent out to find it. Percy learns he has a half brother in the form of awkward cyclops Tyson (Douglas Smith) and the four have to sneak out. Traitor Luke (Jake Abel) meanwhile has plans to reawaken Kronos, the baddest god of them all, and destroy Olympus. Well, shit. The story’s solid enough but it can’t help but feel like it’s going through the motions. The leads are pretty bland this time round and it’s hard to care about Percy or his cohorts, although Brandon T. Jackson is trying his best with the sloppy material. The only bright spot come from the adult camp, where Stanley Tucci and Anthony Head (replacing Pierce Brosnan) do good work as mentors for the heroing kids. Nathan Fillion shows up as Hermes and improves things immensely for the few minutes he’s around, even getting a laugh out of a lame self-referential Firefly gag.
The hiring of half-decent writer Marc Guggenheim to replace the hacktastic Craig TItley is good on paper, but turns out Guggenheim’s worse. The main problem with the film is the flaccid writing, with its plodabout questing, crappy jokes and boring functional lines used to dump exposition on the disinterested viewer. The first film, whilst not endlessly quotable, had some spark and had some energy to the dialogue, but this film ignores that and finds new levels of awful to plunder. I kept waiting for the interactions to become fun, but when I got to the climactic fairground scenes, I realised I was shit out of luck. It had the same problem as Guggenheim’s Green Lantern, in which I wanted the writing to match the fun tone of the film. Dude wouldn’t know decent dialogue if it jumped up and bit him in the face. The character that personifies all this is Clarisse, who is just a cartoon sketch of an arrogant rival who has to take a hackneyed journey of personality and evolve into a reluctant ally. Neither mode is convincing and I found myself wondering if the character in the book is just as one-dimensional. Leven Rambin actually does a good job as her, but she needed decent lines and a clear arc to back up her performance.
The film starts off well enough with a fun training setpiece and an attack on the camp by a raging mechanical bull, but it soon unravels into a boring quest. After defending the first one from the Potter comparisons and insisting that it was better than a crappy rip-off, Sea of Monsters doesn’t leave me a leg to stand on by being hugely derivative to the point of distraction. There’s a scene where the gang hail a magical taxi that’s so similar to the Knight Bus sequence from Prisoner of Azkaban, I started to wonder if they were even trying at all and how soon Warner’s lawyers would be on the phone. A lot of the action involves unconvincingly rolling around backed by a greenscreen as as such ends up being pretty boring.The film ends with an uninspired showdown at an abandoned theme park and it was hard to shake the feeling that I’d seen it all before. During said scene, there’s a bit where the process of bringing Kronos back is almost complete. Instead of yanking the Golden Fleece off the ark (which looks suspiciously like the Ark of the Covenant), Percy chooses to patch things up with Tyson, hugging him right next to the fucking ark, still pissing golden magic into the sky. It’s just lazy. Reunions can happen later and nobody would choose to do it right then and there when there’s a chance to stop an ancient evil from coming back. I’ve said it before, but the dismissive argument that it’s “just a kids’ movie” doesn’t hold water. It doesn’t matter what age your audience is, they deserve a decent story in exchange for handing over their money. They held up their end of the bargain.
The one decent thing are the effects, with some decent CGI bringing some mythical creatures to life. The Hippocampus is a highlight as is the aforementioned metal bull. However, good effects do not make up for a crappy story and you’re left with a hollow shell of a film. I’m annoyed because the first film showed so much promise and had so much potential. I was eager to see more of the modern takes on Greek mythology, but was left wanting. The elements are still there, like the Golden Fleece, but they’re not done with the same panache as before. The direction by the fantastically named Thor Freundenthal is good enough, but the acting and writing need a real kick up the arse. If Sea of Monsters gets a sequel (although current box office numbers would suggest it won’t) I would start there as a priority. Maybe concentrate on the basics first Guggers, before you go setting up a sequel that probably won’t see the light of day.
“Fridge freezer for sale. Broken door and missing shelves, otherwise fine. £500 ONO”
I feel really let down by Sea of Monsters. It’s not completely terrible, but it doesn’t do enough to mark itself out from the slew of other teen fantasy films out there and gets lost in the shuffle. It’ll play well to its undemanding target audience, but to anyone else it’s a slog. Bah. I think the series author put it best. when informed that there’s a zombie character named after him in the film:
Perhaps it’s a metaphor . . . taking something alive and turning it into a mindless corpse. Hmm, would that apply to anything? Nah.
— Rick Riordan (@camphalfblood) August 25, 2013